Protesters who pledged to remove a statue of Halifax’s controversial founder Saturday say they came away victorious after the monument to Edward Cornwallis was covered in a tarp.
More than 100 people looked up at a municipal worker, hoisted by a crane in a city-owned truck, as he draped a black tarp over the bronze statue at the centre of Halifax’s Cornwallis Park.
A Facebook event called “Removing Cornwallis” invited protesters to “peacefully remove” the statue, but organizers didn’t initially say how they planned to make that happen.
Cornwallis, as governor of Nova Scotia, founded Halifax in 1749 and soon after issued a bounty on Mi’kmaq scalps in response to an attack on colonists. The Mi’kmaq have long called for removal of tributes to Cornwallis, some calling his actions a form of genocide.
Organizer Elizabeth Marshall said she wanted to see the statue toppled, but at the advice of Indigenous elders, they decided to symbolically bury Cornwallis with a black tarp.
“(The elders) didn’t say take him down in violence. They said we want him taken down in our way,” Marshall told the crowd. “We want to take him down in love. We want to counteract their hatred.”
Mayor Mike Savage – who had voiced concerns about “violent action” at the protest earlier in the week – linked hands with protesters as they formed two concentric circles and danced around the shrouded monument to the beat of a drum.
Savage spoke out against the removal plan Tuesday, noting that removing the statue by force is not condoned by the Nova Scotia Assembly of Mi’kmaq Chiefs.
Maryanne Junta, a 16-year-old member of Eskasoni First Nation, said the mayor’s mischaracterization of the event could have invited violence against protesters.
“(Mayor) Savage, shame on you for publicly making false accusations against us in the media, claiming that we are dangerous when our intentions were addressed to be peaceful,” Junta said in a speech. “But, I understand that you are here. I appreciate you making your presence and keeping the peace as we promised.”
Savage told reporters that he never doubted organizers’ intentions, but he was concerned about social media posts suggesting the event could turn violent.
On Canada Day, a group of off-duty Canadian military men disrupted a spiritual event at the statue marking the suffering of Indigenous Peoples.
The men, who are now facing a military investigation and possible expulsion from the Forces, said they were members of the Proud Boys, a self-declared group of “Western Chauvinists” who say they are tired of apologizing for “creating the modern world.”
The mayor said he worked with organizers to cover the monument without endangering protesters or the statue.
While a few people showed up at Saturday’s protest to voice their dissent, including a man who tried to shout over a ceremony while carrying the Union Jack, the skirmishes were mostly confined to the edges and swiftly dealt with by police monitoring the event.
The mayor said he will present a list of protesters’ demands – including a call for the “immediate removal” of the Cornwallis statue – at city hall next week.
“We have begun a process over the last little while with the Mi’kmaq community within Halifax on a number of issues and I want that to continue,” Savage said. “The statue is obviously an impediment to that progress, so I think it has to be resolved.”
City councillors voted in April to convene an expert panel, which will include Mi’kmaq voices, to recommend what to do about municipal landmarks paying tribute to Cornwallis.
Savage said he’s trying to speed up the review process, but couldn’t commit to a time frame for when council will take action.
He said the statue of Cornwallis would be uncloaked shortly after the event.
Organizer Suzanne Patles told reporters that having the monument obscured from her sight, even temporarily, filled her with emotion.
“I’m leaving here on an optimistic note,” Patles said. “I’m hoping that things will move forward.”