Activist cleared in 2021 toppling of Hamilton’s Sir John A. Macdonald statue


Published January 26, 2023 at 3:35 pm

Note: This article contains references to Canada’s former residential school system, which has been defined as an act of cultural genocide. Resources are provided at the end.

The only person who was brought up on charges in Hamilton after the group effort to pull down a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald is a free man.

Multiple reports on Thursday indicated that the Crown declined to prosecute a criminal mischief charge against Miguel Avila-Velarde. Avila-Velarde, of Toronto at that time, was one of four people sought by Hamilton Police in August 2021 after the statue of Canada’s first prime minister was yanked down in Gore Park. Around 200 people had attended an Indigenous Unity Rally at Hamilton City Hall. Many marched over to the nearby park, where a group pulled down the effigy with ropes.

Macdonald had a pivotal role in the 19th century in the expansion of the residential school system. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded in 2015 the schools were best described as an act of cultural genocide against First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.

Avila-Velarde had turned himself into police four days after the statue was toppled.

The name and likeness of Macdonald, and public education pioneer Egerton Ryerson, have been removed from public spaces and institutions across Canada due to their hand in the residential school system. Removals and renamings began shortly after the TRC, which recorded testimony of more than 6,000 survivors affected by residential schools, released its final report and 94 Calls to Action in 2015. But those moves by local governments became more frequent in 2021 after First Nations-led searches began to find human remains of hundreds of children at the former school sites.

The elected leadership of Hamilton, which is on traditional territories of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee, and Mississaugas, drew criticism for a drawn-out approach. They elected to undertake a landmark and monument reviews, but voted down a motion by Ward 3 Coun. Nrinder Nann, which called for temporarily removing the statue as a “good-faith gesture.”

The motion by Nann failed by a 12-3 vote. The statue came down 36 days later.

Under that review, the city partnered with the First Peoples Group, an Indigenous advisory firm. Last April, First Peoples produced a 40-page report entitled Honouring Our Roots. It was sourced from months of dialogue with a circle of experts including Elders, historians, artists, and leaders from the Indigenous community.

They recommended clearing the site, holding a cleansing ceremony, and hosting a public design contest “involving both Indigenous and non-Indigenous members of the public.”

Anti-racism resources in Hamilton

  • Indian Residential School Survivors Society; 1-800-721-0066 (toll-free), 1-866-925-4419 (24-hour crisis line)
  • Hamilton Regional Indian Centre;, 905-548-9593
  • Hamilton Anti-Racism Resource Centre;
  • Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion;

(Photo: Nathan Sager, inTheHammer.)

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