Laurier withdraws from participating in statue project

Photo by Andreas Patsiaouros/Photo Editor
Photo by Andreas Patsiaouros/Photo Editor

The Wilfrid Laurier University board of governors passed a motion at their meeting Thursday to withdraw from participation in the Prime Ministers Statue Project.

With 26 in favour, three opposed and one abstention, the board of governors passed the motion to withdraw from the project, while “taking legal, financial, reputational and other risks, as well as contractual obligations, into consideration when planning and executing its exit.”

The PM statue project was unveiled to the Laurier community last July. Dave Caputo, chief executive officer of the networking equipment company, Sandvine, and Jim Rodger created the project.

After the unveiling of the John A. MacDonald statue, the project received criticism from Laurier students, staff and faculty, who believed the statues didn’t represent the university’s cultural diversity. A petition entitled “Stop the Statue Project” was created after the unveiling on by Jonathan Finn, chair of the communication studies department. The petition currently has 1,333 supporters.

An hour before the meeting, the Students Against the Statue Project group protested around the John A. MacDonald statue in the Quad.

“What we’re doing today is holding a rally, more celebratory than anything, because in about an hour the board of governors is going to convene and they are going to vote on a motion to finally cancel WLU’s involvement in this statue project,” said Jaydene Lavallie, Metis student and a core organizer of Students Against the Statue Project.

Members of the Students Against the Statue Project, as well as Laurier president and vice-chancellor Max Blouw, among other university administration, were present at the meeting. The motion was passed through a ballot voting system.

“[The project debate] demonstrated good governance. It means that we can be confronted with a difficult situation and find a way forward that’s very respectful and that’s in the best interest of the university,” said Blouw.

“I think we’ve ended up at the right place after a pretty thoughtful process,” said John Bowey, chair of the board of governors.

On November 5, Blouw issued a statement noting the formation of a special advisory committee to provide recommendations to the university Senate and board of governors on moving forward with the project. The chair of the committee was David McMurray, vice-president of student affairs. Members included Students’ Union president Olivia Matthews, and Jean Becker, a representative of the board and senior advisor of Aboriginal Initiatives.

“I think in asking David [McMurray] to chair a committee to consider all points of view and try and really test the temperature of our university community on this issue we were able to sort of consider that recommendation that the committee made,” said Bowey.

Bowey later explained the board’s recommendation and decision focused on what is in the best interest for the Laurier community.

“I feel comfortable that we’re in the right place and that this was the right decision for the board to reach.”

The question of what to do with the John A. MacDonald statue is yet to be determined, according to Blouw and Bowey.

“I think we’ll probably remove it fairly quickly and put it into storage until we determine in consultation with a number of parties exactly what is the best way forward,” said Blouw.

“I think our expectation would be it will either go back to the organization that donated to us if they would like to have it or we will look to perhaps finding an appropriate place for us to donate it,” said Bowey.

“If you ask me, I think a fitting solution to this project problem would be to donate it to John A. MacDonald secondary school in Kitchener, which would make a lot more sense than here,” said Lavallie.

As for what the university will do next, Bowey explained the future includes speaking to the sponsors of the project.

“We’ve been in touch with them along the way, so they know but I think we’re very respectful of the goodwill gesture they made in an offering they made in the first place.”

Melissa Nagy, a member of the Students Against the Statue Project, said she was thrilled with the board’s final decision.

“I didn’t know how much this project meant to me until the reality of today hit where it was canceled, not to have Harper on campus, not to have any of the symbols that I’m not connected to in any way and neither are a lot of students,” she said.

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