Mayor cautions against protesters' plans to tear down Cornwallis statue

Mayor Mike Savage says removing the statue now will "set back progress" made on reconciliation with Mi'kmaq people.

Removing statue now will 'set back progress' on reconciliation with Mi'kmaq people, says Mike Savage

The statue of Edward Cornwallis is in downtown Halifax. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

Halifax's mayor says forcibly removing the statue of Edward Cornwallis in downtown Halifax will set back progress on reconciliation with Mi'kmaq people.

A group of protesters is planning to tear down a statue of Cornwallis in a south-end park this Saturday.

Suzanne Patles started the Facebook group Removing Cornwallis, which says protesters plan to "peacefully remove" the statue that "for too long has been representing genocide in Mikmaki."

Patles wants the municipality to pledge to remove the statue by Natal Day — Halifax's birthday — "to commemorate the truthful historic founding of Halifax."

Otherwise, the protesters will remove it themselves.

"The true origins do not lie with Cornwallis. That is revisionist history," said Patles, a Mi'kmaq activist.

Removal will 'set back progress,' mayor says

Cornwallis, a governor of Nova Scotia, was a British military officer who founded Halifax in 1749. The same year, he issued the so-called scalping proclamation, offering a cash bounty to anyone who killed a Mi'kmaq person.

In a statement issued Tuesday about the protest, Mayor Mike Savage said he wouldn't stand in the way of a legitimate public protest, but taking down the statue this weekend could have negative consequences.

Members of the group Proud Boys interrupted an Indigenous ceremony and protest at the statue in Halifax on Canada Day. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

"If Mi'kmaq activists and their supporters take down the Cornwallis statue before we are given an opportunity to co-operatively forge a better way forward, we will set back progress that is already being made," he said.

Halifax regional council voted in April to form an expert panel that includes Mi'kmaq voices to advise the municipality on issues stemming from public spaces and monuments named after Cornwallis.

Savage said any action this weekend to remove the statue "is not condoned by the Nova Scotia Assembly of Mi'kmaq Chiefs, by the bands that have land within HRM."

Savage said Halifax should open itself to other possibilities, like finding a way to share the municipality's whole history in the park.​

Reconciliation slow

Patles said council could be moving faster to reconcile peace.

"What is the Halifax Regional Municipality doing where they had more time to venerate the donair as the official food of Halifax?" Patles asked.

The statue has been vandalized in the past and has been the site of protests.

A demonstration and Indigenous ceremony held at the statue on Canada Day made headlines across the country after protesters clashed with five members of the Proud Boys, so-called fraternal organization of western chauvinists.

With files from CBC Radio's Mainstreet