THE ADVOCATE V O L . 7 5 P A R T 5 S E P T E M B E R 2 0 1 7 655
Reconciliation, in our view, involves coexistence and mutual understanding,
not eradication and denial. Harmony is founded upon the blending of
notes, not the omission of some of them. With great respect to the intentions
of the parties, we think the recommendation to remove the Begbie
statue and the acceptance of that recommendation are both misguided.
Yale historian John Fabian Witt posited a test for renaming or removing
references to historical figures. It was recently modified for a Canadian perspective
by Peter Shawn Taylor, editor-at-large of Maclean’s.5 The test is as
• First: Is the principal legacy of the namesake fundamentally at
odds with Canadian values? This requires a broad understanding of
the life’s work of the individual in question.
• Second: Was the relevant principal legacy significantly contested
during the namesake’s lifetime? Isolated statements or actions
considered controversial today may have been conventional wisdom
at the time. Context matters.
• Third: At the time of the naming, was the namesake honoured for
reasons fundamentally at odds with Canadian values? Why was
this person commemorated?
• Finally: Does the building play a substantial role in forming community?
The more prominent the edifice, the greater the case for
retaining names of historical significance.
If the benchers had been so inclined, how might they have applied the
Witt test? We fear that the rush to reconciliation has trampled a principled
approach with one unintended consequence being estrangement rather
than reconciliation of interested parties.
1. 2014 SCC 44.
2. See also “Letters to the Editor” at page 771 of this
t t t t t
3. The extant statue of Begbie outside the main doors to
the Parliament Buildings in Victoria was commissioned
in the early 20th century from Charles
Marega. For debate on these buildings’ proper
name, see “Grumble” (2017) 75 Advocate 615.
4. Renamed the Murray and Anne Fraser Building in
2000. The current whereabouts of the Begbie statue
5. Peter Shawn Taylor, “Langevin, Ryerson, Cornwallis:
Is Our Past Unfit for the Present?” The Globe and
Mail (15 July 2017), online: <www.theglobeandmail.