Halifax council is debating the immediate removal of a statue of Edward Cornwallis from a city park.
Days after Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq chiefs called for the statue to be taken down, councillors are considering placing the bronze figure of the city’s controversial founder in storage until a decision is made on its long-term fate.
Mayor Mike Savage told council that the issue of truth and reconciliation is in the public square, and has been a long time coming.
Speaking from prepared notes, he says that “we are all a product of our history,” but we do not have to be a prisoner to it.
The mayor told council that removing the statue is not about re-writing history, but acknowledging that history is also not “not cast in bronze.”
A staff report suggests the Cornwallis statue could be taken down and stored at a cost of about $25,000.
It says it is concerned about rising tensions around the statue, citing a planned protest Sunday that could result in “damage to the statue, conflicts among protesters and counter-protesters and personal injury.”
“The statue has increasingly become a flashpoint for protests,” states the document, dated Jan. 27.
“Clashes arising from protests and counter-protests of controversial statues in other jurisdictions have in some cases resulted in injury and damage to public property and in a worst case, death. There is a reputational risk to Halifax from the attention associated with this unrest.”
Halifax councillors voted last fall to launch a special advisory committee that would provide council with advice on what to do with Cornwallis commemorations, as well as make recommendations for honouring Indigenous history.
But the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs said it was frustrated with a process that has dragged on for “far too long” and the amount of time it has taken the panel to meet after it was first announced last October. On Friday, it called on the city to remove the statue from a downtown park.
The assembly said it submitted names of potential Mi’kmaq panellists, but the committee has yet to be formed.
The council report also calls on the mayor to “re-engage” the assembly in the committee.
“Removing the statue offers the opportunity to reduce the current volatility around discussions of commemoration, protect the statue, and undertake a public engagement in a less charged environment than is currently the case,” it states.
Last summer, members of the assembly tried to quell a grassroots protest calling for the statue’s removal.
The assembly’s stance was cited by Savage when he spoke out against the apparent threat to public property ahead of the event, which he later attended as the city temporarily covered the bronze figure in tarp.
Organizers have planned another “Removing Cornwallis” rally this weekend, which activists have said was partly inspired by the assembly’s recent call for action.
Cornwallis is a disputed character seen by some as a brave leader who founded Halifax, but by others as the commander of a bloody and barbaric extermination campaign against Mi’kmaq inhabitants.
The Canadian Press