An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.
THE CAMPAIGN TO DEMONIZE the most prominent jurist in British Columbia’s history continues.
Monday night, New Westminster City council voted to remove the statue of Chief Justice Matthew Baillie Begbie from the grounds of the provincial courthouse. Tsilhqot’in leaders have been lobbying for years in what amounts to a rewriting of history with respect to Begbie’s conviction of several Tsilhqot’in men on murder charges in 1864.
Two years ago, a statue of Begbie was removed from the lobby of the Law Society of B.C. Both the provincial and federal governments have offered apologies for the hanging of six insurgents involved in what’s known as the Chilcotin War.
They’ve all bought into the fabrications about Begbie and the War. Actual events are well-documented. Motivated by plunder, a group of Tsilhqot’ins slaughtered close to 20 Europeans, many of them hacked to death in their sleep and their bodies dismembered.
The murders were condemned by the ranking chiefs of the time — Alexis and Anahim — who aided in the capture of the killers. Begbie tried the accused and sentenced them to death.
For the purposes of supporting historic Tsilhqot’in grievances against colonialism, however, the story sounds better if it involves a heroic fight for rights and a “wrongful hanging” by Judge Begbie.
The message has worked. Begbie’s reputation has been tarnished. There are calls for “education” to correct “grave injustices.” But what good will education be if it’s based on misrepresentation of the facts?
An impartial examination of the Chilcotin War would exonerate Chief Justice Begbie but that would be politically inconvenient.
Those who persist in this character assassination should be ashamed for one of two reasons: either they are shockingly ignorant of the history of this case, or they know it and ignore it.
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and newspaper editor. He publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.