Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith has apologized for changes in the decor of council chambers that included the removal of a portrait of Elizabeth II.
“I sincerely apologize for not communicating these changes at the time they began,” he said in a prepared statement read out during the Oct. 15 council meeting. “I didn’t want to appear as trying to score reconciliation points, and I intended a shorter transition period. We should all look forward to the Sidney [council chamber] being more inclusive of our history with the First Nations piece, the Queen’s Portrait, and the Sidney Town Crest hanging here in the coming weeks.”
While the statement did not give an exact date, McNeil-Smith had earlier talked about December.
McNeil-Smith said in the statement that it was his decision to remove the portrait. “I decided to temporarily take it down until the Sidney Town Crest and First Nations piece were ready to go up together with the Portrait,” he said.
McNeil-Smith said he never intended to permanently remove the portrait or replace it with a piece of First Nations art, adding he respects Canada’s status as a constitutional monarchy and a hereditary sovereign as its head of state.
“The current Queen’s Portrait represents this fact,” he said.
McNeil-Smith said in his statement that he visited many communities with crests hanging prominently in their council chambers. “I believe it would be most appropriate to have the Sidney Town Crest hang on the wall behind me,” he said.
(By way of background, McNeil-Smith said in his remarks that Sidney commissioned a crest in the late 1960s. A large carving hung in council chambers for many years until it became damaged. A small replica of an updated crest currently sits on his desk).
“From where the audience is sitting it cannot be seen well or seen as what it is supposed to represent,” he said.
McNeil-Smith also talked about the importance of relations with local First Nations in noting that the WSÁNEĆ people have lived here for millennia.
“While we have nothing significant acknowledging Sidney in our Council Chamber, I also reflected that we have no acknowledgement of our connection to local First Nations,” he said. “Council approved an allocation for First Nations art in our council chamber and in early summer I decided to commission a First Nation’s piece.”
McNeil-Smith’s statement also addressed the question of why he did not leave the portrait behind him or move elsewhere until the town crest and First Nations piece were ready. “To be honest, giving the First Nations territorial acknowledgement felt empty with only the Portrait, which yes, represents our Constitutional Monarchy, but is also seen as a symbol of our colonial past,” he said, in pointing to the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which he says speaks of “decolonization and reconciliation.”
McNeil-Smith said one could have chosen to remove the portrait altogether. “I prefer to be inclusive of the many aspects of our history,” he said.
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