650 V O L . 7 5 P A R T 5 S E P T E M B E R 2 0 1 7 THE ADVOCATE
with Indigenous peoples in British Columbia” by Law Society President
Herman Van Ommen, Q.C. The purpose, to be sure, is noble. Who can argue
with ideals such as unification, inclusion, truth and reconciliation? Not us.
We have no problem with such goals. The process, however, looks to us
more like an early stumble—perhaps even a step in the wrong direction—
than a purposeful and reasoned step toward reconciliation.
The rationale for removing the Begbie statue, we are told, is twofold:
The Law Society’s Truth and Reconciliation Advisory Committee and
members of the Indigenous community recommended to the Benchers
that it be removed. The Benchers were advised that the statue is a
reminder to them of the province’s colonial past and Justice Begbie’s role
in the hanging of six Tsilhqot’in Chiefs. The presence of the statue is offensive
to them and affects their current experience with the Law Society.
The Law Society wishes to engage with the Indigenous community in the
Truth and Reconciliation process. We are removing the statue in the spirit
of reconciliation to ensure that all members of our community feel comfortable
and included in our premises.
Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie arrived in what is now British Columbia in
1858 at the age of 39. A Cambridge-educated Chancery barrister and member
of Lincoln’s Inn, he had been selected by the colonial secretary and
commissioned by Queen Victoria “to be a judge in our colony of British
Columbia”. There is no question that Begbie, as the first Chief Justice of
British Columbia, is a symbol of a colonial past. But reminders of British
Columbia’s colonial past simply abound. It was, after all, a colony at one
point. In fact, it was two colonies: the Colony of Vancouver Island and the
Colony of British Columbia. The colonies were united in 1866 and became
a province of the Dominion of Canada in 1871 (all the while with Begbie presiding).
The capital city is named after the last British monarch of the
House of Hanover, and the province’s largest city is named after a British
officer of the Royal Navy. The Law Society of British Columbia regulates
members of a profession sworn to uphold statutory law (passed by legislatures
based on the British system) and the common law, both transported
to these shores as a direct result of its having been a colony.
Quite simply, the province of British Columbia has a colonial past. This
is not news to anyone. This historical truth does not negate or ignore the
reality that Indigenous people were here for thousands of years before such
colonization. To be sure, the historical record following colonization is
fraught with injustices—toward Indigenous peoples and others—which our
democracy and common law have been slow to redress. The Law Society
itself does not have an exactly blemish-free record in its treatment
of minorities, but we do not simply jettison it because of its sometimes-