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Queen’s law school building to drop Sir John A. Macdonald name

Kingstonist file photo

Queen’s University PhD candidate Sebastian De Line said he feels proud of his community in light of a decision to dename the law school building, Sir John A Macdonald Hall. In June, De Line publised a Change.org petition denouncing the hall’s name on behalf of a group of anonymous students, and represented their cause to the media.

“What we accomplished yesterday is far more than symbolic,” De Line said on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. “It is not a small feat to energize nearly five thousand people who signed a petition, and the nearly three thousand people who replied to the University consultations. This is the culmination of a collective effort to re-educate the public in understanding the impacts that colonization continues to have.”

On Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, the Queen’s Board of Trustees approved the University’s decision to remove the name “Sir John A. Macdonald” from the law school building.

“This decision is grounded in the University’s present-day academic mission and commitment to honour the values of equity, diversity, and inclusivity and to ensure all students, faculty, and staff feel welcome within the Queen’s community,” said Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane. “It also supports our commitment to take action to address systemic racism and ensure every member of our community may enjoy the benefits of our institution equally.”

The decision follows a two month public consultation process that saw more than three thousand members of the Queen’s community, and others, submit feedback to the Macdonald Hall Consultation Advisory Committee.

Principal Deane directed the Faculty of Law to set up the advisory committee in July, in response to De Line’s petition, which currently has 4,631 signatures.

The advisory committee delivered a 65-page report to Mark Walters, Dean of Faculty of Law, recommending the Macdonald name be removed from the building. Dean Walters accepted the recommendation, and following Principal Deane’s endorsement, sent it to the Board of Trustees for final approval.

“Sir John A. Macdonald is rightly celebrated for his central role in the founding of modern Canada and the creation of our country’s constitution,” said Walters. “However, a more complete understanding of his legacies has emerged in recent years. In particular, we now have a richer and better understanding of the hurtful views and policies he and his government advanced in relation to Indigenous peoples and racial minorities.”

“What was made clear through our consultations is that the Macdonald name sends a conflicting message that interferes with the values and aspirations of the current law school and Queen’s community where Indigenous and racialized students must feel welcome and included,” he said.

Petitioners’ insights

In June of this year, the Kingstonist reached out to De Line for comment from the students he represents. Their petition specifically put forward Mohawk Lawyer Aywahande, Patricia Monture, as a suggested replacement namesake for the hall.

“As far as I have seen, there has been an overwhelming amount of support from fellow Queen’s students, students from other universities, as well as the general public,” one student replied, via De Line. “The people supporting the petition are not just Queen’s Law students or alumni, but people from all backgrounds that understand the reason for the demand for a name change.”

The students noted that in 2020, social media has been busier and more informative than ever on the topic of systemic racism, as people share stories and videos of their personal experiences.

“People that may not have been taught about the atrocities that were committed against Indigenous peoples … are learning through social media campaigns, threads, or simple messages such as tweets or Facebook posts. It truly means so much to the team working for the name change that we have a strong support system,” one student said.

Today, De Line said he sees meaningful change taking place.

“It took the accumulation of all this effort to sway what was still a conflicted Board of Trustees,” he said. “Macdonald’s legacy is forever inscribed in innumerable publications. What is happening now is that we are learning a more fulsome retelling of that history, and we get to re-evaluate our own values as a community on how to live well together on treaty Haundenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory; what our responsibilities are as a contemporary society in living up to those treaties that our ancestors agreed upon together.”

“We get to reimagine and choose how to live better together while we think about the building’s new name and its impact on future generations,” he said.

University commits to address systemic racism

Queen’s said it plans to go further over the course of this academic year by acting on it’s recent Declaration of Commitment to Address Systemic Racism and on Principal Deane’s Report on The Conversation with the Queen’s community. Both commit Queen’s to take action against systemic racism and unite the community.

One student behind the petition said that they felt the University had clear steps to take in realizing their commitment to Indigenous students, in the Faculty of Law specifically.

“For the last three years, Ann Deer, the Indigenous Recruitment and Support Coordinator for Law has organized visits by law students to the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne which has the only Indigenous court system,” the student said. “From these annual trips grew the Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC) Akwesasne Self-Governance Project. The problem is that there is only one Indigenous person working for Law, Ann. There are no Indigenous faculty members teaching law at Queen’s.”

“The other problem is the way Indigenous issues are taught in law school,” the student said. “Indigenous governance is not properly understood or taught because it is always in contextualized within the colonial logic of Canadian law. Indigenous ways are completely different than Canadian law. The Faculty of Law needs to seriously commit to hiring BIPOC faculty and offer them tenured positions.”

The student went further to suggest that post secondary institutions are not equipped to recognize high ranking Indigenous educators. “Our people, who carry our laws, do not have Western doctoral degrees. They have the equivalent of a doctoral degree — or more — in traditional knowledge. Most Clan mothers, Elders and Faithkeepers who carry our laws and who speak our languages would never teach in a university. The Elders that are kind enough to come, teach and support students, faculty and staff our ways are overworked, devalued and grossly underpaid,” the student said.

Queen’s: ‘We continue to dismantle these colonial symbols’

In their statement Monday, the University referenced the final report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which in 2015 “made clear the legacy of residential schools is hurtful and lasting.”

“Queen’s University has accepted the findings of the TRC and is committed to honouring its calls to action. The Truth & Reconciliation Commission also identifies special responsibilities for law schools in Canada, and Queen’s Law must ensure that the faculty lives up to those responsibilities.”

Kanonhysonne, Janice Hill, Associate Vice-Principal of Indigenous Initiatives at Queen’s, said that it is important to consider how to move forward together in peace, for the greater good of all peoples.

“As Haudenosaunee we are taught in our decision making to reflect on and be mindful of the past while considering the impact on future generations,” Hill said. “This decision affirms that Queen’s is headed in that direction in terms of creating a safe and equitable space where each member of the community has a strong sense of belonging.  As we continue to dismantle these colonial symbols, we get closer to achieving an inclusive community for all.”

Queen’s has not confirmed whether the Hall will be renamed for Patricia Monture. The University said it will follow a separate process to eventually rename the building. Principal Deane plans to bring recommendations to the Board of Trustees around a specific renaming process for the building in the coming months.

To see the recommendations from Queen’s Principal Patrick Deane and Faculty of Law Dean Mark Walters, as well as the advisory committee’s report, visit the Principal’s website.

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Samantha Butler-Hassan, Local Journalism Initiative

Samantha Butler-Hassan is a staff writer and life-long Kingston resident. She is a news junkie and mom who loves reading and exploring the community. This article has been made possible with the support of the Local Journalism Initiative.

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