The statue of McGill University founder James McGill is now a lightning rod of criticism.
Hannah Wallace, an Indigenous graduate of McGill, has started an online petition to have the statue removed — saying it has no business being on campus because McGill owned both Black and Indigenous slaves.
As of Saturday evening, the petition had more than 1,700 signatures.
“I think that any move that helps the statue (be) taken down — putting any pressure and focus on McGill to address the concerns of its Black and its Indigenous students — is important,” Wallace said.
The online petition, which was launched nearly a week ago on change.org, calls for the statue to be removed and replaced with a tree.
Stating that the university’s founder was a slave owner of “Black and Indigenous people”, the petition continues: “there have long been calls for the statue to be removed. McGill has never listened.”
“It feels very disrespectful,” Wallace told Global News. “I think that McGill can do a lot, too, by improving conditions at their school by addressing their long and terrible colonial past.”
Some are calling for problematic statues of historical figures in Canada to be removed in the wake of worldwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality that were sparked by the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after an officer was filmed kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minn.
Several statues around the world have been torn down by force. The statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston met its watery end on Sunday in western England after anti-racism protesters tied ropes around the statue’s head, dragged it through Bristol and dumped it into a harbour.
Earlier this week, an online petition with more than 9,000 signatures called for the monument of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, to be removed from the Place du Canada Park in Montreal.
The petition’s organizers are calling on Mayor Valérie Plante to act and take down the monument, which they say symbolizes Canada’s “racist, colonial, white nationalist” past.
“I was looking around at other petitions around the world for the removal of statues of racists and slave owners,” Wallace said, “I have signed a bunch of them, but I realized there wasn’t anything on the James McGill statue. It motivated me to start this petition. It was originally shared amongst friends but it started to gain traction. It’s a step in the right direction to get it removed.”
A McGill spokesperson said in an email to Global News that the university’s founder was a slave owner.
“This is not a connection that our University is proud of, but it is a fact that neither should nor can be ignored.”
The spokesperson added that McGill plans to take steps “to recognize and address the harms that resulted from our University’s historical links to slavery and colonialism.”
“It kind of makes me uncomfortable, knowing that I’m walking by a statue pretty much every time I go to class of a slave owner,” said Marissa Landon, third-year physics student.
“It’s a symbol that invokes feeling and oppression and discrimination for even a fraction of the student body, it’s not something the community as a whole would stand behind,” said Ravi Bhuller, a McGill alumni.