Mayor withdraws plan for what to do when monuments are pegged as racist
Some furrowed their brows. Some fidgeted in their seats. Some whispered to each other, and took notes, and sighed loudly at the ceiling.
But in the end, most Hamilton city councillors seemed sorry that Mayor Fred Eisenberger brought up what to do when someone calls a city statue racist. And he ended up withdrawing the idea altogether.
Eisenberger brought a motion to city council's general issues committee Wednesday. He wanted to develop a formal process for what happens when someone has an issue with a public art or monument.
The issue came to light after the city's Aboriginal advisory committee complained about the depiction of Indigenous people in a city hall mural, he said. City staff wasn't sure what to do.
In fairness, Hamilton has other potential grievances too. In Gore Park, a Sir John A. Macdonald statue stands tall, and in 2015, Indigenous activists gathered round it. Recently, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario called on school boards to remove Macdonald's name from schools because of his oppressive actions toward Indigenous people.
Eisenberger said he wasn't inviting people to take issue with public art. When they do, he just wants a process for city staff to follow.
"This is not going to go away," he said. "This is not going to be the last time we hear about this."
Most councillors, however, didn't even want to talk about it.
"I'm not certain why we're doing this in the first place," said Chad Collins, Ward 5 councillor. The system so far seems to have worked, he said. If it doesn't, it will end up at city council, which will deal with issues as they arise.
Donna Skelly, Ward 7 councillor, called it "political correctness gone amuck" and said it would divide the community.
"I really believe this motion is going to trigger an endless stream of demands to remove public monuments and public art," Skelly said.
Terry Whitehead, Ward 8 councillor, pointed out that nearly every historical figure would fail by today's standards.
But Matthew Green of Ward 3, the city's first black councillor, called that "a gross naievete to the state of afffairs, not just in this country but globally, where you have colonial settler supremacy."
Racism and colonialism already exist, Green said. These debates just bring their supporters out of the woodwork.
"Once we start to challenge our own mythology … that's when the tiki torches will appear," he said, and "not addressing these issues won't make it go away."
"I'm supportive of any type of open and honest dialogue that deals with our full history."
Eisenberger admitted as he withdrew his motion that he hadn't intended to open the can of worms.
"This got a lot more involved than I thought it would," he said.