NEW WESTMINSTER (NEWS 1130) — In a move that a New Westminster councillor is calling an important step forward for reconciliation, a statue of Justice Matthew Begbie was razed by construction crews and removed from outside the courthouse Saturday.
Councillor Chuck Puchmayr was relieved to see the statue come down.
“It was quite a moving, very emotionally draining day. It’s been a long time in the making to finally see that piece of reconciliation move forward,” he said.
The removal was witnessed by members the Squamish Nation, Qayqayt First Nation and representatives from the Tsilhqot’in National government.
“The more that we work with our Indigenous communities and try to show some respect and apologize by action–the further along the line of reconciliation we can get,” Puchmayr said.
In May, Puchmayr and fellow councillor Nadine Nakogawa brought a motion forward calling for the removal of the statue because it serves as a “symbol of the colonial era and this grave injustice.” Council voted 4-2 in favour of its removal.
“To finally have a council that agreed that his was the correct step was pretty powerful,” Puchmayr said.
In the 1860s, Begbie presided over the wrongful hangings of six Tsilhqot’in chiefs when their First Nation was at war with the Colony of British Columbia. Begbie was B.C.’s first chief justice. In 2014, Premier Christy Clark formally apologized for the execution of the chiefs and exonerated them of all crimes. In 2018, the federal government followed suit.
For Puchmayr, Saturday’s move signaled a willingness for non-Indigenous people to grapple with the province’s violent, colonial history in order to advance reconciliation.
“People are starting to really engage and are making real efforts to understand the impacts of colonialism, the impacts of the justice system, the impacts of all different levels of government that oppressed and opposed the rights and the freedoms of Indigenous peoples in our province,” he says.
Puchmayr says the statue will be taken to storage and consultations will be held to decide if there is a way for the statue to be re-purposed as an educational tool.