Corp Comm Connects

Toronto’s review of Dundas Street’s name could have far-reaching implications, city manager says
July 22, 2020
David Rider

Toronto’s response to a petition to rename Dundas Street could lead to far-reaching anti-racism remedies, including the renaming of other city streets and squares, and the removal of monuments from public property.

Those possible outcomes -- city council will decide what, if any, actions are actually taken -- are in a briefing note released Tuesday by city manager Chris Murray.

The note comes amid a wave of international protests over systemic racism following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. On Saturday, Toronto police arrested activists who splattered pink paint on a number of downtown statues.

Murray, who was appointed city manager four years ago after holding the post in Hamilton, acknowledges racism in the city’s protocols for honouring people.

“The city of Toronto is committed to addressing the legacy of Dundas Street and establishing a process to more broadly understand and respond to how systematic racism and discrimination are embedded in city assets, commemorative programs and naming policies,” he wrote.

“This might ultimately touch all named city streets, parks and facilities, public monuments, and civic awards and honours, potentially leading to a variety of actions (e.g., renaming streets, removing monuments, revoking awards or reinterpreting any of these).”

A Dundas review alone could also encompass Yonge-Dundas Square, two subway stations, streetcar routes, parkettes and a library branch.

Murray will present his findings and recommendations on Sept. 23 to city council’s executive committee and its chair, Mayor John Tory, who tasked Murray with the report in response to the street renaming campaign.

More than 14,000 names are now on the online petition, launched in June by Toronto-based artist Andrew Lochhead, that calls the legacy of Henry Dundas, an 18th-century Scottish politician, “highly problematic.”

Dundas “actively participated in obstructing the abolition of slavery in the British Empire” and his actions “cost tens of thousands of lives, if not more,” the petition states.

Lochhead was inspired by calls in Edinburgh, Scotland, to remove a towering Dundas monument there.

On Tuesday, he welcomed Murray’s briefing note as a small but important step toward Toronto reckoning with institutionalized anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism.

“I think this is, in ways, more than what I asked for initially,” Lochhead said of the wide-ranging city review.

“I’m very pleased to see the city undertake this process. It’s a long way to go and we’ve got plenty of fight left, but this is important to begin.

“The goal is no less than the re-examination of how we engage with public memory here at the city of Toronto. It’s important that we don’t separate this issue from calls to defund the police service, Black Lives Matter and broader calls for racial equality and justice.”

Murray’s note suggest options for city council to respond to the Dundas petition that include:

“Staff are not recommending option 1, do nothing,” the note adds.

If Dundas Street is renamed, Murray said council should not use the city’s street-naming policy, which requires the applicant to provide an alternate new name and to get approval from three-quarters of the street’s property owners.

He said an alternative process could rely more on public suggestions and input from an advisory panel with Black and Indigenous “knowledge and language keepers.”

The city is at a “particularly turbulent moment,” Murray concluded, facing calls for racial justice while COVID-19 disproportionately impacts racialized communities.

Toronto should reaffirm commitments, with necessary actions, to its Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action, and the Calls for Justice for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, Murray wrote.

“At the midpoint of the UN’s International Decade for People of African Descent, taking steps to right wrongs, challenge systematic institutionalized racism and build a more inclusive Toronto is more important than ever,” he added.

“Addressing the historical legacy of Dundas Street is one of these steps.”