Controversial statue of Judge Begbie removed from outside New Westminster courthouse
Another statue of a now-controversial historical figure has been removed from a B.C. public square.
The sculpture of the province’s first chief justice, Judge Matthew Begbie, was quietly taken off its stone pedestal outside the New Westminster provincial courthouse Saturday to cheers from local First Nations.
City council voted to remove the statue in May.
WATCH: (Aired May 6) Debate over removing statue of B.C. judge
The motion brought forward by councillors Nadine Nakagawa and Chuck Puchmayr cited Begbie’s role in the wrongful hanging of five Tsilhqot’in Nation chiefs in 1864.
Begbie oversaw the trial that found the chiefs guilty of murdering 14 members of a road-building crew. He was also responsible for the hanging of a sixth chief a year later.
The motion recounted how the chiefs were tricked into thinking they were meeting with the colonial government near Quesnel for peace talks, and said the statue of Begbie was “a symbol of the colonial era and this grave injustice.”
Puchmayr filmed the removal along with members of the Tsilhqot’in, Qayqayt and Squamish First Nations.
The longtime councillor called the removal a positive step towards reconciliation.
“This is the first Indigenous court in British Columbia, and for the participants of that court to walk by that statue and be reminded of the not very pleasant legacy of Judge Begbie, we felt this was too great a place of power to have this statue present,” Puchmayr said.
“You could feel the relief from the Indigenous people watching the removal of this oppressive piece of public art,” he added.
The motion passed with a 4-2 vote in city council, with those opposed only calling for further public consultation.
Puchmayr said the removal was done quietly to avoid “put[ting] any more salt in the wound of those few people who are adverse to this.”
The statue will be held in the city’s museum to await further discussions with the Tsilhqot’in chiefs and the community at large on whether to install it publicly elsewhere or keep it indoors.
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The action could also spark further actions to remove Begbie’s name from other public spaces in New Westminster, Puchmayr added, including the very square where he once stood.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau exonerated the hanged chiefs and apologized to the Tsilhqot’in people on behalf of the Canadian government in May 2018.
Begbie’s removal comes months after a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald was removed from outside Victoria City Hall, which was approved by the city council there as another reconciliation effort.
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