In July 2021, Council debated the City’s motion to rename Dundas Street, EX25.1 Recognition Review Project Update and Response to the Dundas Street Renaming Petition. To view the motion, click here. After a lengthy debate, Council passed the motion with a majority vote of 17-7, with 2 Councillors absent. I opposed the motion, saying the report ignored compelling research and evidence that did not support their recommendations. Click here to watch my speech to Council. You can read the transcript below.
Speech on EX25.1 at City Council, July 14, 2021 Recognition Review Project Update and Response to the Dundas Street Renaming Petition
This is a difficult debate, so I’ll start by saying that while there may be disagreement among councillors, we all support fighting anti-black racism, and we all believe that slavery is an abominable practice with an atrocious disregard for human dignity and basic human rights.
There are three issues I want to speak to today:
First, Henry Dundas in the context of equity and inclusion.
The staff report states:
“The continued commemoration of Henry Dundas…..is in direct conflict with the values of equity and inclusion that the City of Toronto upholds.”
Yet, the historical record shows that:
Dundas appointed an avowed abolitionist, John Graves Simcoe to be the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. Which led to the first anti-slavery bill anywhere in the British Empire. Simcoe could not have done it without support from Dundas.
Dundas stood up for Black Loyalists when governors of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick refused to respect their rights. He ordered the officials to give them the land and benefits to which they were entitled.
Dundas supported bilingualism when he instructed the governor for Lower Canada to ensure that the legislative assembly in Quebec City conduct debates in French as well as English.
These are significant examples of equity and inclusion, a criteria for deciding if continued commemoration of Dundas is appropriate. Yet the report didn’t acknowledge them because its guiding principle was “Relevance to Toronto.” I would argue that supporting abolition in Upper Canada, supporting black loyalists, and supporting language rights have always been relevant to Toronto.
Secondly, I would like to address the issue of Dundas’ amendment: “That the Slave Trade ought gradually to be abolished.”
Supporters of the name change say that Dundas was responsible for delaying abolition, implying he delayed in order to avoid it.
In fact his plan didn’t propose a delay. His plan was to immediately begin the gradual abolishment of the slave trade, to be completed by 1800. He knew that only a gradual approach would get passed into law.
Here is what Henry Dundas said, from the transcripts of the British House of Commons debate on April 2, 1792:
(In this passage, “honourable friends” refers to the abolitionists:)
“My honourable friends, however, … have very well known that I have long entertained the same opinion with them as to the Abolition of the Slave Trade.”
That is to say, he supports abolition. Later he said:
“My opinion has been always against the Slave Trade.”
Speaking to the protectionists, he said:
“It is something anomalous that we, who are ourselves free, should carry on a Slave Trade with Africa; and it is something anomalous also that we, who enjoy the full benefits of freedom, should never think of introducing cultivation in the West Indies by Freemen, and not by Slaves.”
He then tried to persuade the protectionists it was in their own best interest to end the slave trade.
In his speech he is using every possible argument to pass abolition into law.
Here he refers to the challenges of changing the attitudes of the day:
“I am far from flattering myself that any thing I have said can at once totally eradicate prejudices that are deeply rooted, and bring over men to a set of altogether new ideas.”
Finally, I’d like to address the standard of proof.
This, our first proposal for renaming a street, will set the standard for subsequent proposals, so we must be diligent about the standard of proof.
The staff report omitted context for Dundas’ motion: that is, the previous, resounding failures by the British Parliament to legislate abolition, which led to his moderate approach.
It ignores evidence that Henry Dundas demonstrated values of equity and inclusion.
It ignores the fact that Dundas’ plan was not to delay the introduction of abolition, it was to introduce significant measures immediately, and see it completely abolished by 1800. The first year would have banned all British persons and ships from engaging in human trafficking with foreign territories,
This report does not meet the standard of proof.
As a City, we want people who are targets of racism to know it isn’t tolerated. As a Council, we need to be able to point to concrete actions that show real, substantial action in fighting systemic racism.
Renaming Dundas street will not accomplish any of that. And it unjustly implicates Henry Dundas in the very thing he was fighting against.
I will not be supporting the report.