Community calls for removal of Sir John A. Macdonald’s name from Faculty of Law building

One petition suggests the University rename the building after Mohawk lawyer Patricia Monture

Mark Walters, dean of law, said the Board of Trustees is the University body that holds the ability to rename the building.
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Mark Walters, dean of law, said the Board of Trustees is the University body that holds the ability to rename the building.
Photo: 

As the Kingston community reflects on representations of local history, many are calling for the removal of Sir John A. Macdonald’s name from the Faculty of Law’s building.

Sir John A. Macdonald, who lived and worked in Kingston, was Canada’s first prime minister. He is also remembered for his role in implementing many racist colonial laws, including the Indian Act of 1871, the creation of residential schools, and the foundation of the RCMP’s predecessor the North-West Mounted Police in 1873.

Macdonald is further remembered for pushing a starvation policy that forced Indigenous peoples out of the Prairies to build the Canadian Pacific Railway, the execution of Louis Riel in 1885, the Electoral Franchise Act of 1885 which restricted the rights of BIPOC individuals’ ability to vote, and the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885. 

One petition, started by Sebastian De Line, a current PhD candidate in cultural studies and teaching fellow in the department of language, literature, and culture, is calling for Principal Patrick Deane to change the name of Sir John A. Macdonald Hall to Patricia Monture Hall.

Aywahande (the one who speaks first or gets things going with words) Patricia Monture was a Queen’s alumna and Mohawk lawyer who advocated for Indigenous rights in the practice of law. She passed away in 2010.

“Monture was instrumental in arguing that as a sovereign citizen or member of the Mohawk Nation within the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, she was not obliged to take an oath under Sections 4 and 5 of the Public Officers Act, R.S.O. 1980, c. 4 15 as amended, and Rules 53 (4) and 5 1 under the Law Society Act in Ontario but that the oath must be optional,” the petition states, adding that through Monture's actions, Indigenous people are now able to hold an eagle feather rather than swear on a bible in a court of law.

The petition also links the movement for renaming the building back to the recommendations in the University’s Yakwanastahentéha Aankenjigemi - Extending the Rafters: Truth and Reconciliation Commission Task Force Final Report which was released in 2017.

The sixth recommendation put forward by the report states that “[t]he [U]niversity must create culturally validating spaces by incorporating Indigenous art in common spaces, including Indigenous languages on welcome signs, plaques, and building names, and integrating traditional Indigenous plants across the campus gardens to recognize and honour the territory of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe Peoples.”

The petition states that renaming the Faculty of Law building Patricia Monture Hall would create a “culturally validating” space to inspire future law students, faculty, and the broader Queen’s and Kingston communities. 

The petition had garnered 3,500 signatures at the time of publication.

In a statement on June 12, Mark Walters, dean of law, acknowledged the dissent being expressed by the community.

“I know that the name of our building – Macdonald Hall – is a source of deep concern for many members of the Queen’s Law community given Macdonald’s involvement in the development of the Indian residential school policy in the nineteenth century and other policies that he championed affecting Indigenous peoples and racial minorities,” Walters wrote. 

He noted that, while Macdonald’s role in advancing these “hurtful policies is indisputable,” the path forward in addressing his legacy is “a complex one.”

“[T]he authority to change the name of the building belongs not to me or to the faculty but to the Board of Trustees of the University,” Walters wrote. “If and when the Board considers this matter, I am confident that it will make a decision that is based upon the values, principles, and policies that the University is bound to uphold.”

He also said the manner in which the debate unfolds within the law school community will be important to this process.

Beyond the Faculty of Law building, others are looking to the City of Kingston to remove the statue of Macdonald in City Park. A public demonstration scheduled for June 20 will move through the downtown area to call for the statue’s removal.

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