Victoria Council voted Thursday to remove the letters “ACAB” from a Bastion Square mural that has been a hotbed of recent controversy.
The mural was initially commissioned by donors and a grant from the City of Victoria in recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement and installed in mid-August.
Shortly after it was discovered that the artists had included the letters “ACAB” – widely understood to stand for “All Cops Are Bastards/Bad” – which brought strong condemnation from Victoria’s police.
The mural was later vandalized in mid-September but repaired to include the letters again.
On Thursday’s Committee of the Whole meeting Councilor Charlayne Thornton-Joe presented a motion brought by her and Councilor Geoff Young to remove the letters as soon as possible.
“I support 100 per cent that the dialogue continues,” Thornton-Joe said in debate on the motion. “But in the meantime, I do feel that the letters need to be removed.”
Thornton-Joe also read out several letters from constituents calling for the removal of the letters, with many saying that while they support anti-racism initiatives, they believe the letters spread more hatred.
Her motion also said that the African Heritage Association of Vancouver Island (AHAVI) had written a letter to the City expressing discomfort with the acronym.
Mayor Helps, who also voted in support of the motion, said that racism is an ongoing issue that the City needs to continue discussing.
“This is a really really difficult issue,” said Helps at the meeting.
“Every institution in this country, including this city, including this administration, has systemic racism. That’s the legacy of the way that the world’s been organized.”
Council voted unanimously to remove the letters at the earliest opportunity possible and to continue dialogue with the artists, City staff, the police, and AHAVI.
An amendment to formally recognize systemic and address racism in the City also passed with unanimous support.
Thornton-Joe’s motion also instructed that if the artists choose to replace the removed letters with another design, that they will have to submit their proposal for staff approval.
Councillors Sarah Potts and Ben Isitt voted against that recommendation, while the rest of council voted in support.
Speaking remotely, Isitt said he felt the instruction was a potential overreach of the government.
“There’s a saying I think by Voltaire: I may not agree with the words you say, but I will defend to your death your right to say it,” he said.
“I think we should tread lightly in exercising our power as a municipal government in exercising a form of censorship.”
The issue will be debated further at next week’s council meeting.