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Halifax mayor speaks out against protesters’ plan to remove Cornwallis statue

A statue of Edward Cornwallis stands in a Halifax park on June 23, 2011.

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Tensions over how Halifax honours its contentious founder are growing as a plan to topple the statue of Edward Cornwallis from a downtown park circulates on social media.

A Facebook event called "Removing Cornwallis" invites people to a protest Saturday to "peacefully remove" the large bronze statue from atop a large stone pedestal.

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage spoke out against the plan Tuesday, noting that removing the statue by force is not condoned by the Nova Scotia Assembly of Mi'kmaq Chiefs.

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"It is true that many Mi'kmaq people, Indigenous people, and others of all backgrounds disagree with the continued presence of Edward Cornwallis on a pedestal in a public park," he said in a statement. "I understand this position and am committed to a resolution of this situation."

Related: Canada's top general condemns actions of servicemen who disrupted Indigenous ceremony in Halifax

Read more: Canadian military must learn more about Aboriginal history: Indigenous ceremony organizer

Although Savage said the city will not stand in the way of "legitimate public protest," he said the city will not "condone violent action in the place of real dialogue."

City councillors voted in April to examine the use of Cornwallis's name on municipal property.

An expert panel, which includes Mi'kmaq voices, will weigh in on commemorations of Cornwallis in the city including the statue.

Savage said the panel will "recommend an appropriate way forward for what has become a polarizing issue in this community."

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"Removal of the statue and the renaming of the park must be among the considerations for the panel as well as for council," he said.

In 1749, Cornwallis issued an infamous scalping proclamation promising a bounty for the scalp of every Mi'kmaq.

Cornwallis Junior High was renamed in 2011, but the name of the controversial founder of Halifax remains on city parks and streets.

On Canada Day, a group of Armed Forces members disrupted a spiritual event marking the suffering of Indigenous Peoples at the Cornwallis statue.

The men said they were members of the Proud Boys, a self-declared group of "Western Chauvinists."

Nearly 300 people indicated on the Facebook event page that they planned to attend the protest, while about a thousand were interested.

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The event page, hosted by Suzanne Patles, said the statue "for too long has been representing genocide" in Mi'kma'ki.

"We are calling on our warriors, protectors, allies, friends and lovers to join us in this historic event," the description said.

Savage suggested there might be ways to reconcile with Indigenous people while commemorating the city's turbulent history.

"Can a park be a place where we reconcile our past with a new way forward in the spirit of reconciliation?" he said. "If Mi'kmaq activists and their supporters take down the Cornwallis statue before we are given an opportunity to co-operatively forge a better way forward, we will set back progress that is already being made."

Last year, after council rejected a bid to discuss updating municipal landmarks bearing Cornwallis's name, the statue was vandalized.

Red paint was found on the statue's base, plaque and nearby stones, with smaller splashes on the statue itself.

However, a year later council voted 15-1 to reopen the simmering Cornwallis debate and study the use of his name on city property.

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