Council to consider removing Cornwallis statue from Halifax park
Safety concerns surrounding a planned protest at the statue cited as a reason
Halifax regional council will debate a recommendation Tuesday to remove the statue of Edward Cornwallis from a city park and place it in temporary storage.
The recommendation is in a staff report titled Commemoration of Edward Cornwallis. It has not yet been added to the weekly council meeting agenda, but CBC News obtained a copy of it in advance.
"The most immediate concern around the statue is one of public safety," the report states.
"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."
'Significant risk for damage'
Cornwallis, a military officer who founded Halifax in 1749, issued the so-called scalping proclamation, offering a cash bounty to anyone who killed a Mi'kmaw person.
A weekend protest is planned at the statue and the report said there could be an attempt by protesters to tear it down.
"Given the probable increased volatility due to the passage of time since the last protest and the withdrawal of the ANSMC (Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs) from the process, the protests may be less peaceful than the protests of July 2017 and represent a significant risk for damage to the statue, conflicts among protesters and counter-protesters and personal injury," the report stated.
Last year, on Canada Day, a group of protesters demonstrating in front of the statue was confronted by a smaller group called the Proud Boys. While the confrontation didn't become violent, the incident made national headlines and intensified the debate around the statue's presence in the south-end Halifax park.
Halifax regional council voted to form an expert panel to make recommendations on how to handle municipal properties named after Cornwallis in April.
The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs was slated to choose half of the panel's eight members, but the group withdrew its support for the process last Friday, calling for the statue to be taken down immediately.
The panel never met and made no decisions. Talks between the municipality and the assembly broke down — after some councillors rejected one of the panellists suggested by the assembly.
The dispute was centred around Wilbert Marshall, the chief of Potloteck First Nation. Some councillors refused to accept Marshall's appointment because he was convicted in 2008 of sexually assaulting a 20-year-old woman.
"Personally, I would not favour that particular individual," said Coun. Steve Adams. "I don't know what area of expertise he would have brought forward … I think there are others that could have done the job and done it well."
Daniel Paul, a Mi'kmaq elder and author, disagrees. Paul said Marshall has already served his punishment.
"The chiefs in large have looked at the situation, and keep in mind that three of chiefs of Mi'kmaq communities in Nova Scotia are female, and they saw fit to pass the motion unanimously. I guess he has been forgiven for his sins by the Mi'kmaq anyway," said Paul.
CBC News has reached out to the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs for comment but has yet to receive a reply.
Earlier Monday, Mayor Mike Savage was asked about the assembly pulling out of talks and called it "detour" on a journey to reconciliation.
"For me, I've always said the statue is an impediment to getting where we need to be with our First Nations partners, primarily the Mi'kmaq, but also the Métis who live here in Nova Scotia," he said
Paul reiterated Monday that it's time for the statue to come down.
"The city government and the councillors are readily available," Paul said. "The mayor is readily available and all you have to do is really get them together and have a chat and get something done."
The report recommends re-engaging with the assembly and advising a special advisory committee. If the assembly still doesn't want to engage, then the report states municipal staff could return to council with a new recommendation on how to commemorate Edward Cornwallis and recognize Indigenous history.
'Less charged environment'
"The statue has increasingly become a flashpoint for protests," the report notes. "It also represents a hindrance to engaging many Mi'kmaq and Indigenous persons in dialogue about how to commemorate our shared history and how to engage in dialogue on reconciliation.
Removing the statue could offer an opportunity to reduce the current volatility around discussions of commemoration, protest the statue and allow public engagement to take place in a "less charged environment," the report states.
The cost to remove the statue and commemorative plaques from the base of the statue has been estimated at around $25,000, according to the report.
With files from Tom Murphy and Preston Mulligan