British Columbia

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps apologizes for excluding voices in statue removal debate

In an op-ed published in the Times Colonist, Helps said she failed to recognize the "great desire" of Victoria residents to participate in reconciliation.

Helps maintains that council made the right call in removing the John A. Macdonald statue from city hall

Helps, seen here in 2017, says reconciliation has been challenging for to deal with personally. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps has apologized for making some people feel excluded from the city's decision to remove a statue of John A. Macdonald from the steps of city hall. 

In an op-ed published in the Times Colonist on Wednesday, Helps said she failed to recognize the "great desire" of Victoria residents to participate in reconciliation. 

"The process going forward will enable this," she wrote. 

Helps, who is seeking a second term as mayor this fall, said she will invite wider community conversation about reconciliation and a new location for the statue with the city family, a group appointed in June 2017 to address reconciliation.

She has also scheduled a meeting with the John A. Macdonald society and invited the statue's sculptor to participate.

Helps says the statue of John A. Macdonald was a barrier to Indigenous communities engaging with city hall. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Aftermath has 'weighed heavily'

The city family, comprised of Indigenous and non-Indigenous members, proposed removing the statue to city council, which endorsed the decision earlier in August. 

The quick dismantling drew criticism from at least one council member. Coun. Geoff Young voted against the decision and said it warranted greater discussion.

Helps maintained that council made the right call in removing the statue from city hall and finding a more appropriate space for it.

The statue of Macdonald, who is considered an architect of the residential school system, was a barrier to Indigenous communities engaging with city hall, Helps said.

"But now that I have had time to reflect on the process, I feel the need to explain some things that have weighed heavily on my mind," she wrote.

Helps, who noted that she does not speak for the city family, said that reconciliation means "creating opportunities for true learning and conversation among Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities."

"But it is complex," she added, "and so we will make mistakes as we navigate and try to walk this road together."

Helps did not respond immediately to CBC's requests for comment.

A second plaque has been installed to replace the statue after the first plaque was vandalized shortly after the statue's removal. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

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