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Halifax's Cornwallis Statue Decision 'Has To Be Resolved': Mayor

"This is not an issue that's going to go away, so we have to deal with it."

08/18/2017 12:03 EDT | Updated 08/18/2017 17:39 EDT
Andrew Vaughan/CP
A statue of Edward Cornwallis in a Halifax park is shown in this file image from June 23, 2011.

A controversial statue of Halifax's city founder Edward Cornwallis has become an increasingly hot button topic, and the mayor believes a decision about its future in a public park "has to be resolved."

Over 100 people gathered by the historic monument on Tuesday to renew pressure on the city to remove the Cornwallis statue.

The rally was named "Against white supremacy! Against the far-right! Solidarity with Charlottesville!" Protesters aimed to bring attention to the statue's ties with white supremacy in Canada.

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said issue around the statue isn't something that going to go away. "So we have to deal with it, as they say," he told HuffPost Canada in a phone interview.

"We'll have to make our own decisions, and I think it's worth having people with expertise with a number of different points of view [weigh in]."

Chris Donovan/Reuters
Isabelle Knockwood, an elder of Indian Brook calls for the removal of the statue of Halifax founder Edward Cornwallis, who issued a bounty on the heads of indigenous people, in Halifax on July 15, 2017.

The protest comes over a month after activists gathered around the statue for an Mi'kmaq ceremony on Canada Day to mourn the Indigenous lives lost because of European colonization.

The ceremony was interrupted by off-duty members of the Armed Forces, who refer to themselves as the Proud Boys, carrying the old Red Ensign flag while singing "God Save the Queen."

The statue memorializes Cornwallis, a governor of Nova Scotia, who founded Halifax in 1749. Months after settling in Halifax, the British military officer issued an order offering a bounty to anyone who killed a person of Mi'kmaq descent in response to an attack on colonists.

Earlier this month, federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould called the debate around removal of the statue a local issue.

A committee is being established to help determine what the future of the statue and how "Cornwallis" will be used in the naming of parks and streets, Savage said.

"Certainly one of the options will be to take the statue down."Mike Savage, Halifax mayor

"We'll see in September what the panel will look like, and they'll only bring forward a recommendation. City council will have to decide with what to do," he said. "Certainly one of the options will be to take the statue down."

Halifax residents have long advocated for the removal of any public mentions of the Cornwallis name, and last month, the statue was temporarily covered by a tarp during a Mi'kmaq prayer ceremony.

In 2016, the sculpture was vandalized with a splash of red paint. According to the Chronicle Herald, the Halifax Regional School Board voted to rename Cornwallis Junior High School to Halifax Central Junior High in 2011.

The Nova Scotia-based newspaper ran an online poll this July asking whether or not the statue of Edward Cornwallis should be removed from Cornwallis Park. Of the 14,867 respondents, 63 per cent voted "no" to the monument's removal.

While Savage cannot give a timeline of when the panel, and later the city council will make a call as to how the name Cornwallis will be used in and around Halifax, he is holding out for a resolution.

"I don't think what happens in Charlottesville necessarily changes views, I think it'll make people more aware of sensitivities people may have [about Cornwallis]," said Savage.

Confederate plaque moved from Montreal building

Interest in the status of the Cornwallis statue has picked up new momentum, particularly as a reaction to the white nationalist rally and counter-protest in Charlottesville, Va. over plans to remove a monument to Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Inflamed racial tensions have prompted some action north and south of the border.

A plaque honouring Jefferson Davis — president of the Confederate states during the Civil War — was removed from Montreal's Hudson's Bay Co. building this week.

A 145-year-old statue of Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney — a notable defender of slavery and denier of black citizenship rights — was also removed from the Maryland State House early on Friday.

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