After lengthy discussions Wednesday afternoon, the Prince Edward Heritage Advisory Committee (PEHAC) voted to “acknowledge” a local working group’s recommendation for the removal of the Sir John A. Macdonald statue from downtown Picton.
The motion did not take a stance on whether the committee supported the group’s recommendation for removal, but instead, left the decision to council to make.
“While a location for it to be removed to has not been specified, PEHAC supports the assumption of the working group that the statue would be removed to storage for later consideration,” Wednesday’s motion read.
This came just two weeks after the working group decided to support the removal of the Macdonald statue, which has been vandalized several times over the course of the last year, from its downtown Picton location.
Across the country, statues and memorials of Canada’s first prime minister have come under fire due to Macdonald’s treatment of Indigenous people and his involvement in residential schools.
The working group had spent the previous three months meeting with members of the community and looking over public consultation to make their decision.
Wednesday’s heritage committee vote passed with only one member, Liz Driver, in opposition. Driver, the director of the Campbell House Museum in Toronto, spent most of the meeting calling into question the working group’s processes, arguing that the group’s use of a “secret ranked balloting” system did not meet the subcommittee’s terms for coming to a consensus on the statue’s fate.
The group’s vote landed 4-3 in favour of the removal of the statue.
Committee member Peter Lockyer, who is one of the people who brought the statue to Kingston five years ago, also voiced his opposition to the working group’s findings, arguing that public consultations landed with about 60 per cent of respondents in favour of keeping the statue where it was.
He stated that the group’s decision making processes were flawed, and he felt they were not in line with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which he argues never makes any mention of removal of statues and monuments.
Driver argued that a recommendation for the removal of the statue would “only sew further division, not contribute to the reconciliation.”
The heritage committee meeting opened with a letter, written by one of the working group’s members, Judith Burfoot, who runs All Welcome Here, an anti-racist group based in the county.
Burfoot challenged concerns about the group’s decision she said were expressed by members at the committee’s last meeting, calling them a “slap in the face.”
“The working group included members from Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities, including from the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte. This is in stark contrast to the Prince Edward Heritage Advisory Committee and something that I did not hear a single PEHAC member so much as acknowledge. It was disheartening to see this profound bias in your committee be so blatantly ignored.”
Burfoot noted that there were three members of the committee in the working group, who she said did not express any concerns about processes until after the group made their decision to move the statue.
In her letter, Burfoot challenged criticism of the working group, saying she felt like some committee members were trying to “usurp” the group’s decision.
“Are you suggesting your voices are more authoritative than ours,” Burfoot asked.
Global News was not able to secure an interview with Burfoot for further comment Wednesday.
Ultimately, all members of the committee, save Driver, voted in favour of a motion that recommended to forward the working group’s decision to council — namely that the statue be moved from its Main Street location, put into storage, while council decides whether it should be permanently removed or simply moved to a location on either public or private property.
Additionally, the motion recommends “further consideration and public engagement be undertaken on the future of the statue,” and that the decision on statue’s fate be made no later than September, 2022.
The motion also suggests council develop a strategy to showcase art in that showcase’s the community’s commitment to anti-racism and that support marginalized peoples, and to bolster private ventures that look to support Indigenous art and culture.
With the heritage committee’s recommendation and the working group’s report in hand, Prince Edward County council will take up the matter on Nov. 17.