Portrait of Queen to return to Sidney council chamber

Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith says a portrait of the Queen taken down from a council chamber wall in May will go back up in December, but the Monarchist League of Canada says its removal is offensive.

McNeil-Smith said the removal was his decision, not a council resolution, based on “informal” conversations with some fellow councillors as part of a commitment toward reconciliation with First Nations.

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The Queen’s portrait will be re-hung when a $5,000 commissioned piece of art by Chazz Elliott, a Coast Salish artist from the Tsartlip First Nation, is completed and erected in the first week of December, he explained.

The mayor said it felt “insincere” to recognize the local First Nations at the start of every council meeting and have no First Nations art in the council chamber and only a portrait of the Queen in the room.

“I believe the Town of Sidney’s council chambers will be more inclusive by acknowledging both our local First Nations and our constitutional Monarchy,” McNeil-Smith said. “We want to walk the talk.”

Bruce Hallsor of the Victoria branch of the Monarchist League of Canada said true reconciliation would see both the Queen’s portrait and First Nations art in the council chamber.

“I don’t agree there’s any equivalence between putting up a First Nations piece and taking down the Queen,” Hallsor said. “I think it’s offensive to connect the two quite frankly. There’s no reason for any period that the Queen should be down.”

Either Sidney recognizes the Queen as the head of state or it doesn’t, Hallsor said. “If the city of Sidney decides as part of its reconciliation with First Nations it wishes to purchase some First Nations art and install it, that’s great,” Hallsor said.

“I don’t know what that has to do with the Queen.”

Robert Finch, chairman of the Monarchist League, issued a public statement on Thursday calling the reasoning behind the town’s removal of the Queen’s portrait “absurd” and “in need of correction.”

“To remove the portrait of a monarch who has fostered close ties with our First Peoples throughout her reign, and who has no responsibility for the politics, law-making and actions of elected officials, is illogical,” he said.

Finch said it is the rule of law, which the Queen personifies, that guarantees courts function impartially and that legislative bodies reflect the results of elections.

Hallsor said it’s comforting to know the act of taking down the Queen’s portrait was not an act of council and was the “whim” of one person.

Neither McNeil-Smith nor Coun. Peter Wainwright swore allegiance to the Queen in swearing in ceremonies, Hallsor said.

Hallsor said whether the Queen’s portrait is returned in October or December is likely not a big issue for anyone “but I don’t see any reason to wait.”

Council’s total budget to renovate the chamber is $10,000, including the First Nations art piece, and includes an enhanced town coat of arms and changes to sound baffles to allow more wall space for art.

The mayor did not specify where the Queen’s portrait, originally at the head of the council chamber behind the mayor’s seat, would be re-hung.

The Queen is in most city council chambers around the country because she is the Queen, the head of state, said Hallsor.

“If people don’t want to have a monarchy that’s a debate we can have but don’t just remove the symbols of our existing order without any debate and pretend it doesn’t exist,” said Hallsor.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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