A step towards reconciliation: Halifax launches committee to rethink Cornwallis
Published Tuesday, October 3, 2017 6:13PM ADT Last Updated Wednesday, October 4, 2017 7:47AM ADT
A statue of Edward Cornwallis stands in a Halifax park on Thursday, June 23, 2011. (Andrew Vaughan / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
HALIFAX -- In a move billed by one councillor as a historic step toward reconciliation with the Indigenous community, Halifax council has launched a special advisory committee on the commemoration of its controversial founder, Edward Cornwallis.
Regional council voted 15-2 on Tuesday to create the expert committee, and is expected to choose its members behind closed doors.
Coun. Shawn Cleary said the decision to rethink how the city honours Cornwallis is a step towards improving the municipality's relationship with Mi'kmaq people.
"This is historic for us," he told council before the vote. "I'm hopeful this is another step in rebuilding the relationship that for the last 400 years has not been a terribly good relationship."
For some, Halifax's founder may be the product of a bygone era, but he still played an important role in establishing the city and serving as governor of Nova Scotia.
But to others, Cornwallis is a symbol of colonial oppression, a morally indefensible man who issued a bounty on the scalps of Mi'kmaq men, women and children.
The special committee is expected to provide council with advice on what to do with a statue of Cornwallis in downtown Halifax, as well as make recommendations on honouring Indigenous history.
The city briefly covered up the bronze figure of Cornwallis this summer as protesters converged on the statue and demanded it be pulled down.
"Emotions tend to run high and people tend to get quite entrenched," Coun. Waye Mason said. "I think it's quite important that we approach this with the spirit of openness and we look at this with an open mind."
Halifax council narrowly defeated a similar motion Mason tabled in 2016 that would have seen experts and the public weigh in on the Cornwallis issue.
"I'm really happy to see this day has finally come," he said, noting that he's been dealing with the issue since the city decided to rebuild the playground in Cornwallis Park in downtown Halifax three years ago, sparking fierce debate over the park's name.
Two amendments proposed Tuesday were both shot down. One would have eliminated the committee's option of taking a "phased approach" to the work, which recommended deliberating first on the commemoration of Cornwallis and then investigating the broader question of honouring Indigenous history.
A second rejected amendment would have removed remuneration. Some councillors expressed concern that paying members an honorarium of $150 per meeting, up to a maximum of $2,100, set a precedence of having to pay for work normally done by volunteers.
The committee will be made up of eight community members, four of which will be based on nominations put forward by the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs.
Coun. Steve Adams, who voted against the committee, said the Indigenous members will be under "immense pressure" to have the statue removed.
"That will be a foregone conclusion. There will be immense pressure to have the statue taken away," he told council. "I don't think it's fair to put them in that situation."