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Victoria mural sponsor says anti-police acronym inappropriate, but fuels debate

VICTORIA — A group that sponsored an anti-racism mural that was called disrespectful by Victoria's police chief says part of the work is offensive.

VICTORIA — A group that sponsored an anti-racism mural that was called disrespectful by Victoria's police chief says part of the work is offensive.

The African Heritage Association of Vancouver Island said Friday it cannot condone the appearance in the mural of the acronym ACAB, which is commonly held to mean "All Cops Are Bastards" or "All Cops Are Bad."

"While we stand behind the 'More Justice, More Peace' sentiment we do not condone the offensive ACAB acronym," it said in a statement.

"We are proud of the relationships we have developed with the City of Victoria, the Victoria Police Department and other police agencies within the CRD (Capital Regional District) over the past 16 years and look forward to continuing our conversations about systemic racism with these agencies and affecting institutional change."

A spokesperson for the association could not be reached for further comment.

Last week, police Chief Del Manak said the city-sponsored mural on justice issues disrespects members of the police department.

Manak said he spoke to city officials last week about the message on part of the mural, which was presented to the city as a project to raise awareness of injustices suffered by Black, Indigenous people and others. He said he also expressed his concerns about the mural during a meeting with members of the Black community.

Manak could not be reached for comment Friday.

The mural is the work of 17 artists and is meant to raise awareness of injustice and inequality. It has been in place in Bastion Square for almost a month.

City spokesman Bill Eisenhauer said officials plan to meet with the African Heritage Association and the mural artists about the acronym. A date for the meeting has not been set, he said.

"The matter at hand is not the mural," he said in an interview. "It's a wonderful project that brought people together on an important topic. The matter to discuss, that we'll be discussing with them, is the inclusion of the acronym."

The city provided an arts grant to the association and the artists to complete the mural.

The Victoria program provides grants between $500 and $5,000 for public projects.

The acronym is "not in the spirit of the city’s guidelines for art in public spaces," city spokesman Sheldon Johnson said last week.

The association's statement said despite the acronym, its presence has fuelled important conversations.

"Unfortunately, this has happened in a divisive manner at the expense of the community," said the statement.

"The mural itself is impactful and whatever the outcome, we are glad that the mural will inspire, teach, provoke conversations and contribute to ongoing dialogue about systemic racism."

Pamphinette Buisa, a community organizer representing the artists and a member of the women’s national rugby sevens squad based in nearby Langford, said Friday the mural has prompted more open dialogue on difficult questions.

"I look forward to further conversations," she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 4, 2020. 

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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