De-naming Macdonald Hall: In conversation with Mark Walters

Dean of Faculty of Law says community petition led to de-naming consultation

The Faculty intends to use an online method to gather student input on the building's name.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

Mark Walters, dean of the Faculty of Law, said he’s open to new opinions in the consultation process to determine whether the University should de-name John A. Macdonald Hall.

The Faculty of Law announced a formal consultation process on June 25 to review the name of Sir John A. Macdonald Hall. The announcement followed calls from the community to remove Macdonald’s name from the building, including a petition which has gathered more than 4,000 signatures calling for the University to change the name.

“The issue of the name of the law school […] has been raised a number of times over the past few years,” Walters said in an interview with The Journal. “It came to the forefront about five years ago, and part of that is the public awareness about Macdonald’s role as the architect of the Indian residential school policy that is so hurtful and harmful to Indigenous people.”

The consultation will include a committee of students, faculty, staff, and alumni and will be formed in early July. In late August, a report and recommendation will be submitted to Principal Patrick Deane, who will deliver a formal recommendation on the possible name change to the Board of Trustees, which has the authority to make a decision about the issue.

Though no one has been appointed to the consultation committee yet, Walters said the Faculty hopes to do so early next week.

READ MORE: Faculty of Law launches consultation on naming of Sir John A. Macdonald Hall

Walters acknowledged the complex nature of Macdonald’s legacy. While he was a key figure in the formation of Canada and the country’s first prime minister, he was also the architect of several racist policies, including the Indian Act of 1871 and the creation of residential schools.

“Macdonald did a lot of good things for the country, and was […] the architect not only of Confederation, but of the early building of the country,” Walters said. “So there were good reasons for having his name on the building, but he also was involved in policies that we now understand to be harmful and unjust.”

He noted public awareness on the topic “really arises” from the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which documented the details of the residential school system.

READ MORE: Truth & Reconciliation at Queen’s, a year later

“I think the response of the law school over the years has been to take these concerns [seriously] and do our best to ensure that what goes on in the law school addresses those concerns in a substantive way, to make improvements in curriculum and make the law school more welcoming to Indigenous people,” Walters said.

Other measures taken by the law school included hiring Ann Deer as an Indigenous Recruitment and Support Officer, bursaries to support Indigenous law students, welcoming Indigenous lecturers to Queen’s, and placing the work of Mohawk artist Hannah Claus at the entrance to John A. Macdonald Hall.

The Faculty is now pursuing the consultation process because, according to Walters, these measures didn't satisfy students’ concerns about the name of the building. The recent public discourse on racism has also contributed to the decision.

“It is an important reminder of how institutions have an obligation to address these issues, and I think the University feels strongly that this is really a turning point in our understanding of how institutions approach systemic racism,” he said.

Walters also cited Sebastian DeLine’s petition to change the name of the building to Patricia Monture Hall—for the Queen’s alumna and Mohawk lawyer who advocated for Indigenous rights in the practice of law—as the “immediate event” which precipitated the launch of the consultation process.

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

In the consultation process, the Faculty plans to provide an online method in which students can share their input on the subject. The Faculty also plans to give people the opportunity to speak about this issue in a virtual, town-hall setting. 

“We want to make sure people are comfortable with the process,” Walters said. “I personally want to keep an open mind at this point…I am honest in saying that I just want to hear from people.”

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