June 16th 2021-Following a five hour Special City Council Meeting that included 12 public delegations to discuss the matter of removing Sir John A. MacDonald's statue from City Park in Kingston, City Council voted to move the statue to Cataraqui Cemetery, pending facilitated consultations with Indigenous communities.
Prior to Council moving into a Committee of the Whole to debate the issue, local residents made delegations to argue for or against the statue's removal with some focus on MacDonald's policies and legacy.
One local delegate argued that Sir John A MacDonald was not to blame for residential schools, that he was revered by Indigenous people at the time, that he respected treaties, and that the Prime Minister "cared more about the Indigenous than anyone at the time." The delegate went on to say MacDonald "created the Northwest Mounted Police specifically to wipe out the liquor trade that devastated the Indigenous on the prairies."
Other Indigenous and non-Indigenous delegates argued for the statue's removal. Natasha Stirrett explained her views on MacDonald's leading role in "clearing the plains" and initiating the policies that created residential schools. She also admonished City Council to consider Council's lack of diversity while listening to diverse voices. The removal of the statue in her view would be "a gesture of good faith" and "demonstrates an intention to move forward in a way that honours and respects [Indigenous] dignity."
Following the delegations, Council members discussed three options, the first to leave the statue in place at City Park, the second to place it in storage and continue consultations, and third, to relocate the statue to Cataraqui Cemetery.
Questions emerged from Councillors Bridget Doherty, Jim Neill and Peter Stroud about whether the third option was discussed with others including the the Sir John A. History and Legacy Working Group. That group held an emergency meeting on Monday night and arrived at the decision to recommend removal of MacDonald's statue from City Park as soon as possible for placement in temporary storage pending more consultations and decision-making.
Mayor Bryan Paterson responded that he consulted with the Chair of the Board of the Cataraqui Cemetery and discussed that Board's desire to open discussions on the matter with Indigenous communities.
Councillor Neill stated that if neither the Working group nor Bellevue House had an opportunity to discuss option C, the matter was "troubling."
Mayor Bryan Paterson implored council that if they "were mindful of holding the community together, avoiding a backlash on either side" that option three, removal of the statue to Cataraqui Cemetery, would be the best compromise.
The decision to move the statue to the Cemetery passed 8 to 5.
Councillor Peter Stroud also passed a unanimous motion to ensure that the peaceful gathering underway around MacDonald's statue in City Park be allowed to continue indefinitely. Firekeepers on site with tents will also be allowed to remain.
In a news release issued by the City on June 17, Mayor Paterson stated that “Engagement with the public will continue throughout the process.” He added that it “was a difficult decision, and the outcome will not appease everyone. However, the hope is that with this compromise we signal to the community, one with very divergent views on this matter, that we’re committed to continued dialogue about the legacy of Sir John A. Macdonald in Kingston. We recognize the pain that the statue inflicts on the Indigenous community in its current location, we understand the legacy of Sir John A. is complex, and we want to move forward in a way that encourages community, conversation, healing, and education towards the shared path of reconciliation.”
The City's news release also stated that there will be activity at City Park starting June 17th to mobilize equipment and secure the site in order to proceed with the removal of the Sir John A. Macdonald statue. The removal is expected to take place on Friday morning starting at 6 a.m. and will take several hours.
The statue will initially be stored while the City facilitates an engagement process between the Cataraqui Cemetery and the Indigenous communities prior to its installation within the Cataraqui Cemetery.
City staff are expected to report back to Council on August 10th with details on engagement for the statue’s installation as well as next steps for new interpretive intentions for its previous location at City Park.
While City Council debated the removal of the statue, Limestone District School Board announced via Twitter that its Board had voted unanimously to initiate the potential renaming process for École Sir John A MacDonald Public School located on Martha Street in Kingston.
Trustee Garrett Elliot put forward the motion to initiate the renaming process and review the name of the school to ensure "it reflects our board's mission, vision, values, with a lens on reconciliation, decolonization, anti-racism, and anti-oppression principles." Trustee Robert Godkin seconded the motion.
The motion also directs board staff to initiate the renaming process that will include stakeholder consultation, specifically the Indigenous Education Advisory Committee, as outlined in Administrative Procedure 552: Naming and Renaming of Schools. The motion asks the process to include a stance on reconciliation, decolonization, anti-racism, and anti-oppression principles. The renaming process will begin in September once school resumes.
Godkin also proposed removing the current school name in favor of using an "construction name" - Kingston East Elementary School - on an interim basis effective June 30, 2021. Kingston East Elementary School was the placeholder name used while the school was under construction.
Some debate occurred among trustees about assigning an interim name.
Student Trustees Annika Putnam & Namirah Quadir stated that an interim name is a good and appropriate compromise to allow for time to impactful consultation process. Trustee Elliott added that an interim name would support the removal of a hurtful name now and allow more fulsome consultation can occur. Trustee Karen McGregor disagreed stating that consultation was a key in Trustee Elliot's motion and as a result, stated that she did not believe passing an interim name was wise without consultation.
In addition to approving the motion to initiate the renaming process, Trustees voted in favour of the motion to use the interim name effective June 30, 2021.
“The Board of Trustees acknowledges the ongoing pain and harm related to the use of that name within our school communities but particularly with Indigenous members,” says LDSB Board Chair Suzanne Ruttan. “Removing the current name at the end of the school year is a timely way to begin the healing process while planning for meaningful consultation with the Indigenous community, students, families and staff.”
The school was named followed a naming process in 2012. There have been previous calls to change the name of the school in recent years.
In the meantime, staff will work with the school community to transition from the current name to the interim name. There are several items that need to be addressed, and the board asks for the community’s patience as it moves forward with these changes.
“Changing the name of this school will have a powerful impact on how Indigenous and racialized students see themselves,” says Chair Ruttan. “We look forward to a consultation and renaming process that honours equity, diversity, and inclusivity, and ensures all students, families and staff feel safe and welcome. This is one small step to demonstrate our commitment to Truth and Reconciliation, and having all students see themselves in Limestone.”
Updated June 17th 2021