A petition has been launched that asks Toronto City Council to rename Dundas Street due to the “highly problematic” legacy of the person it’s named after.
The petition began following weeks of protests and other movements responding to the deaths of George Floyd, a Black man who died after he was heard repeatedly saying that he could not breathe while being held down by then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin; Breonna Taylor, an EMT from Louisville who was shot and killed in her apartment in March; and many others.
The protest calls for City Council, in the wake of these past two active weeks, to “take a constructive and symbolic step toward disavowing its historic associations with persons who have actively worked toward preserving systems of racial inequality and exploitation.”
Dundas Street is the target for change, according to the petition, because of the “highly problematic” legacy of Henry Dundas, First Viscount Melville.
The petition says that Dundas, as the MP for Midlothian in Westminster and as Secretary of State, he actively participated in obstructing the abolition of slavery in the British Empire from 1791 to 1806, when his political career ended.
Slavery was eventually abolished in 1833 and officially in British North America in 1834, the petition says, however, Dundas’ actions to “preserve the profiteering of his friends in the slave trade, cost tens of thousands of lives, if not more.”
The petition asks City Council to begin a public process to rename Dundas Street to honour a more appropriate person, place, or event, and notes the process should be transparent and undertaken in partnership with Black-led organizations and historical societies.
This collaboration, the petition says, will help create “a long list of potential candidates.”
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The petition also states that Dundas was the last British MP to be impeached; the cause was embezzlement and misappropriation of funds — though he was not convicted.
“If we truly wish for our public street names and monuments to reflect our values and priorities we must consider engaging the public in the process of excising those names which are no longer worthy of our honour or respect. Names such as that of Henry Dundas,” reads the petition.
“Street names change frequently and it’s important that this one does.”
The petition closes by noting that Dundas’s monument in Edinburgh, Scotland has been the target of recent demonstrations, wherein there have been calls for the city to consider its removal.