British Columbia

New Westminster to consider removing statue of judge involved in First Nations hangings

City councillors will hear motion Monday asking that the Judge Matthew Begbie statue be removed from grounds outside provincial courthouse on Carnarvon Street.

City councillors will hear motion Monday asking that Judge Matthew Begbie statue be removed

The Judge Matthew Begbie statue sits on Carnarvon Street outside the provincial courthouse in New Westminster. (Meera Bains/CBC)

The City of New Westminster will consider removing a statue of a judge involved in the hangings of six First Nation chiefs in the late 1860s.

City councillors will hear a motion Monday that the statue be removed as part of several measures to address reconciliation with First Nations.

The motion was brought by councillors Nadine Nakagawa and Chuck Puchmayr.

Nakagawa, 36, says the motion is not about destroying the statue, but removing it from its place of power in front of the provincial courthouse in the city.

"How we tell the story of who he was as a figure in the history of British Columbia, but also the story of the Chilcotin War and how that has affected Indigenous-settler relations until the current day," she said.

New Westminster Coun. Nadine Nakagawa says statues do not do a good job of giving a nuanced account of history. (CBC)

The motion says that in 1864 Judge Matthew Begbie presided over the trial that resulted in the wrongful hangings of Chief Lhats'as, Chief Biyil, Chief Tilaghed, Chief Taqed, and Chief Chayses of the Tsilhqot'in Nation, and that in 1865, Chief Ahan was also wrongfully hanged in New Westminster.

Deceived

At the time, the Tsilhqot'in chiefs were at war with the Colony of British Columbia, which was called the Chilcotin War. The chiefs were deceived into meeting with government officials for the purpose of peace talks. They were instead arrested, tried and hanged.

In 2014 the province apologized to the Tsilhqot'in Nation for hanging the chiefs and exonerated them. In 2018 the government of Canada also exonerated them.

In November 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went to B.C.'s Central Interior and apologized to the First Nation in a special ceremony.

The motion says the Begbie statue is a symbol of "the colonial era and this grave injustice."

The statue is in Begbie Square outside of the provincial courthouse in New Westminster, off Carnarvon Street.

In addition to removing the statue, the motion would have the city speak with the Tsilhqot'in Nation about the history and legacy of Begbie and the effects his decisions had on its people.

The motion would also have staff find an appropriate place for the statue and do consultations to find a place to tell the history of the Chilcotin War.

If the statue is removed, it won't be the first time a statue of Begbie has come down.

In April 2017, the Law Society of B.C. announced it would remove a statue of Begbie from its lobby as part of its efforts at reconciliation with First Nations.

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