News / Vancouver

First Nation lauds B.C. Law Society removal of ‘hanging judge’ statue

Sir Matthew Begbie, B.C.’s first judge, hanged six Tsilhqot’in chiefs, calling them ‘murdering pirates.’ Now, their descendants want more Begbie tributes axed.

Chief Joe Alphonse, tribal chairman of the Tsilhqot'in Nation is pictured at Farwell Canyon, B.C. Friday, Oct. 24, 2014. Premier Christy Clark's Liberal government issued a formal apology in 2014 in the legislature for the 'wrongful arrest, trial and hanging of the six chiefs' in 1864.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Chief Joe Alphonse, tribal chairman of the Tsilhqot'in Nation is pictured at Farwell Canyon, B.C. Friday, Oct. 24, 2014. Premier Christy Clark's Liberal government issued a formal apology in 2014 in the legislature for the 'wrongful arrest, trial and hanging of the six chiefs' in 1864.

First Nations whose six chiefs were hanged by British Columbia’s first judge, Sir Matthew Begbie are applauding the province’s Law Society for finally removing a statue celebrating him.

The removal raises questions about other B.C. landmarks honouring Sir Matthew Begbie, nicknamed the “hanging judge” for his execution of six Tsilhqot’in Nation chiefs after the so-called Chilcotin War.

Despite several cities hosting Begbie tributes, he remains notorious to this day, particularly among the Tsilhqot’in — whom he referred to as “savage” and “cruel, murdering pirates.”

“The Law Society is right to admit to past mistakes and get rid of this monument to injustice and symbol of B.C.’s colonial past,” said Tsilhqot’in National Government Chief Joe Alphonse, in a statement. “The Tsilhqot’in Nation honours our War Chiefs … for their courage and sacrifice.

“They were heroes who defended their territory and traditional way of life against a foreign aggressor. In this time of truth and reconciliation, Indigenous history and experiences can no longer be ignored.”

In a 2014 ceremony, Premier Christy Clark “fully exonerated of any crime or wrongdoing” the executed Tsilhqot’in chiefs.

“This is an important step in our journey toward reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in British Columbia,” said Law Society President Herman Van Ommen, in an Apr. 14 statement. The Society plans to “replace it with a more unifying and inclusive symbol in due course … to ensure that all members of our community feel comfortable and included in our premises.”

East Vancouver hosts Sir Matthew Begbie Elementary School on Lillooet Street. New Westminster has a street commemorating Begbie as well as a statue, and Port Coquitlam, Victoria, Kelowna and Revelstoke have roadways named after him too.

Now the Tsilhqot’in National Government is now calling on the province to remove other landmarks celebrating Judge Begbie “from all public places.”

A statue of Judge Begbie sits in Begbie Square in downtown New Westminster, B.C. despite calls from some First Nations to remove public tributes to the province's first judge over his execution of six Tsilhqot'in chiefs in 1864.

Supplied/City of New Westminster

A statue of Judge Begbie sits in Begbie Square in downtown New Westminster, B.C. despite calls from some First Nations to remove public tributes to the province's first judge over his execution of six Tsilhqot'in chiefs in 1864.

Metro was unable to reach the cities of Vancouver or New Westminster by time of publication Sunday.

Another notorious historic B.C. figure, Joseph Trutch — one of the colony’s negotiators for joining Canada after its 1867 confederation and its first Lieutenant Governor — has streets and avenues named after him in Vancouver’s west side, Victoria, Richmond and Chilliwack, and even his own town in the province’s far northeast, near Fort Nelson.

Trutch was notoriously white supremacist, writing that Indigenous people “are the ugliest and laziest creatures I ever saw and we should as soon think of being afraid of our dogs as of them.” He extended his anti-Indigenous racism to renouncing the Crown’s requirement to negotiate treaties with First Nations, instead stealing the land outright leaving most of the province in unceded status.

In April, the Law Society announced it had created a reconciliation advisory committee “to incorporate Indigenous issues and content into lawyer education curricula and will be organizing a symposium in the fall to engage members of the Bar for their input on next steps.”

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