Sidney’s acting mayor Peter Wainright said he is surprised to field questions about the town’s decision to remove a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II from council chambers. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

LETTER: ‘It was never my intention to remove the Queen’s portrait permanently’: Sidney mayor

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I read from the following statement about the Queen’s Portrait at our Oct. 15 council meeting.

It was never my intention to remove the Queen’s portrait permanently or replace it with a piece of First Nations art. I respect that we are a Constitutional Monarchy and our Head of State is a hereditary sovereign. The current Queen’s portrait represents this fact.

This is the council chamber for the Town of Sidney. Our townsite was first established with the name Sidney in 1891, and we incorporated as a municipality in 1967. We don’t have anything on these walls indicating we are The Town of Sidney or representing our heritage. We do have Canadian and provincial flags at the front, and a Sidney flag that is unrecognizable.

In the late 1960s Sidney, North Saanich, and Central Saanich commissioned individual town crests. The Sidney town crest reflects aspects of our heritage, including our connection to local First Nations. A large carving of our crest hung in this chamber for many years until it unfortunately became damaged. Our crest had a design update in the late 1990s and is currently represented by the small replica currently on the front of my desk. From where the audience is sitting it cannot be seen well or seen as what it is supposed to represent.

During the past year I have visited many communities that have their 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.

READ ALSO: Sidney’s acting mayor says no one noticed removal of Queen’s portrait

When I began serving as mayor nearly a year ago, I initiated and have continued giving a territorial acknowledgement of our local WSÁNEĆ First Nations at the beginning of each council meeting. While our settler culture has lived here for some 250 years, 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. Council approved an allocation for First Nations art in our council chamber and in early summer I decided to commission a First Nations piece.

Why didn’t I leave the Queen’s portrait hanging behind me or move it elsewhere in the chamber 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.

The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples speak to decolonization and reconciliation. One could choose to remove the Queen’s portrait altogether. I prefer to be inclusive of the many aspects of our history. 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.

I sincerely apologize for not communicating these changes at the time they began. 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.

Cliff McNeil-Smith

Mayor of Sidney

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