Controversial statue removed from its spot in New Westminster

New Westminster Record

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The statue of Judge Matthew Begbie was removed from its spot in New Westminster on Saturday, July 6.

On May 6, city council voted 4-2 in favour of removing the Judge Begbie statue from in front of the provincial courthouse on Carnarvon Street.

New West Coun. Chuck Puchmayr posted a short video of the statue being removed on Instagram.

“An emotional event with Tsilhqot’in, Qayqayt and Squamish First Nations witnessing the removal of the Judge Begbie statue from the New Westminster Law Courts. #judgeBegbie #reconciliation.”

As per the motion approved by council, the city will also: engage in a conversation with the Tŝilhqot’in Nation about the history and legacy of Judge Begbie and the effects his decisions had on generations of their people; work with the city’s museum and archives, the community and the Tŝilhqot’in Nation to find an appropriate place for the statue; and engage in a process of consultation to find an appropriate place to tell the history of the Chilcotin War.

Coun Nadine Nakagawa, who put forward the motion, said in May that the city needed to respond to a request by the Tŝilhqot’in chiefs in 2017 to remove all namesakes of Begbie, who was the first chief justice of the Colony of British Columbia.

In 1864, Begbie presided over a murder trial in Quesnel of five Tŝilhqot’in chiefs who were found guilty and sentenced to hang. The following year, a sixth chief, Chief Ahan, was tried, convicted and sentenced to death in New Westminster – in a spot not far from where the statue stands.

In 2014, the provincial government apologized to the Tŝilhqot’in Nation for the wrongful execution of the six chiefs. In 2018, the federal government fully exonerated the chiefs of any wrongdoing.

The Tŝilhqot’in National Government has commended city council’s decision to remove the statue from in front of the courthouse, saying it represents a legacy of pain and tragedy that’s still felt to this day.

From the Tŝilhqot’in perspective, Judge Begbie represents a legacy of betrayal, pain and tragedy for our people,”Chief Joe Alphonse, tribal chair of the Tŝilhqot’in National Government said in a press release. “Removing Judge Begbie’s statue from public spaces does not remove him from history, but rather recognizes our history and our experience as Indigenous peoples. We are grateful for the leadership shown by the New Westminster city council and for the understanding and compassion for our people that this decision reflects.”

– With additional reporting by Theresa McManus