Queen's University to remove Sir John A. Macdonald's name from law school building

Queen's University says it is renaming its law school building, Sir John A. Macdonald Hall, after significant consideration and months of public consultation.

PM's name sends 'conflicting message,' says dean

Queen's University said Monday it will rename its Sir John A. Macdonald Hall in light of the first prime minister's 'hurtful' policies against First Nations and racial minorities. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

Queen's University says it is renaming its law school building, Sir John A. Macdonald Hall, after significant consideration and months of public consultation.

The Kingston, Ont., university's move follows mounting calls across the country to remove monuments commemorating its first prime minister, who is also recognized as the architect of the residential school system. 

Last week, a Macdonald nameplate was removed from a statue in Regina in protest and, this past summer, a statue of him was toppled in Montreal.

Also in Kingston, where Macdonald grew up, there are calls to remove his statue from a local park, though the mayor has so far rebuffed them.

While Macdonald is "rightly celebrated" for his role in founding modern Canada, his full historic legacy cannot be ignored, said law school dean Mark Walters in a news release.

"We now have a richer and better understanding of the hurtful views and policies he and his government advanced in relation to Indigenous peoples and racial minorities," said Walters who, with university principal and vice-chancellor Patrick Deane, recommended the change to the board of trustees, which was approved on Monday.

Macdonald established Canada's residential school system and instituted a head tax on Chinese immigrants. (National Archive of Canada/Canadian Press)

"What was made clear through our consultations is that the Macdonald name sends a conflicting message that interferes with the values and aspirations of the current law school and Queen's community where Indigenous and racialized students must feel welcome and included."

Under direction from Deane, the law school set up an advisory committee in July to look at how it should respond to an online petition, with more than 4,600 signatures, calling for a name change, a news release from the university said on Monday.

Public consultations with more than 3,000 people over two months led to a 65-page report that recommended the school name be changed, the release said.

'Safe and equitable space'

The residential school system, which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said amounted to "cultural genocide," saw about 150,000 Inuit, First Nations and Métis children taken from their families as an act of forced assimilation. Macdonald was also responsible for instituting a head tax on Chinese immigrants.

Kanonhsyonne (Janice Hill), Queen's associate vice-principal of Indigenous initiatives, said the name removal, in the era of reconciliation, takes into account the greater good.

"This decision affirms that Queen's is headed in that direction in terms of creating a safe and equitable space where each member of the community has a strong sense of belonging. As we continue to dismantle these colonial symbols, we get closer to achieving an inclusive community for all," she said in the release.

Details on how the university will decide on a new name will be released at a later date.

The online petition that called for removing Macdonald's name recommended the school instead name the building Patricia Monture Hall, after the Mohawk lawyer and Queen's graduate whose work made the oath to the Queen optional for new lawyers.