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Students Are Calling Out McGill For Not Removing The Statue Of Its Slave-Owning Founder

Coalition of student groups wants the university to own up to its colonial past.
Contributing Writer
Students Are Calling Out McGill For Not Removing The Statue Of Its Slave-Owning Founder

A coalition of student groups has had enough of McGill University's monument to its slave-owning founder. On Saturday, they gathered near the statue of James McGill and called for it to be brought down. "This institution has been far too comfortable in its white supremacy delusion for far too long," said Heleena De Oliveira, president of the Black Students' Network of McGill, in a statement.

"McGill has clearly and repeatedly prioritized, valued, and commemorated this piece of metal situated behind me, and indeed the colonial legacy left by James McGill, over the well-being and safety of its living, breathing Black and Indigenous community."  

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"We’re tired of being ignored," Ayo Ogunremi, VP External of the Students' Society of McGill University, said.

"We’re tired of being dismissed. We’re tired of being despised. McGill University’s contempt for Black life is demonstrated in many ways. But none is clearer than this statue."

James McGill was a Scottish businessman and philanthropist who owned five to seven Black and Indigenous slaves.

His statue stands near the rue Sherbrooke entrance to the university he helped found, but its presence has become increasingly controversial, said Kyron Richards, President of the Caribbean Students' Society, at Saturday's "Enough is Enough: Take James Down" demonstration.

Richards spoke about James McGill's connection to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, describing him in a statement as "a profiteering merchant who made a fortune from the labour of enslaved peoples in the Caribbean."  

After speeches, protesters stuck post-it notes with messages for McGill's administration to the statue and daubed it with colourful chalk.  

[rebelmouse-image 26883975 photo_credit="Black Students' Network of McGill" expand=1 original_size="800x1600"] Black Students' Network of McGill

As the debate over monuments to controversial figures of Canada's colonial past continues to grind on, the efforts to remove the statue of James McGill have been gathering steam.   

Richards addressed a recently published 97-page report by McGill professor Charmaine Nelson and her students that shines a spotlight on the university's colonial legacy.  

The Enough is Enough: Take James Down campaign also calls for the university to address issues of systemic racism in an open letter with eight recommendations for the university.  

Their first request is for McGill to replace the statue with "a permanent physical memorialization of the people enslaved and oppressed by James McGill and other actors involved in the creation of the institution."  

A petition launched in June, calling for the statue to be removed from campus and replaced with a tree has received over 5,500 signatures.   

The university's official website calls James McGill a "trader, pioneer and philanthropist."   

"McGill's dedication to public service distinguished him from many of his fur-trading contemporaries," it states.  

However, a short addition to his biography acknowledges he owned enslaved people, "a fact our university acknowledges and that calls for our greater study and scrutiny."  

"The university will publish more facts about its early history as these become available through the work of these and other scholars," it states.  

The Enough is Enough: Take James Down campaign is being organized by the Black Students' Network of McGill, the Black Law Students' Association of McGill, the Caribbean Students' Society of McGill, the McGill African Students' Society, and SSMU External Affairs.  

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