“I know this topic can be very emotional,” Mayor Leroux said in a video post June 17 on his municipal Facebook page, adding that he is “saddened” at the behaviour of a few people in the community.
Effort to free Russell Township of namesake slavery link
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Une pétition pour changer le nom Russell
During the last few days, Mayor Leroux noted, staff at the municipal office have received “very vulgar messages” from anonymous callers who scream and curse over the phone about the name change issue, then hang up without giving their own name or phone number. In a few instances, the verbal abuse was so bad that the staff member who took the call ended up disconnecting first.
The township’s namesake, Peter Russell, a slave owner who was administrator for Ontario two centuries ago, has become a social issue in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. An online petition exists for having the township name changed.
Mayor Leroux has introduced a motion to council during its July 15 session for a process to find a new namesake for the municipality, which will involve public consultation. Detailed discussion of the motion will take place during the July 6 special session of council.
Most of the response through social media to the mayor’s proposal is favourable. Some online critics declared that a name change is not necessary and the township should focus on other issues. There is also another online petition advocating that the municipality leave the name situation as it is and focus on other concerns.
Vanessa Leman, a former Russell resident launched the original petition calling for the name change out of concern about how the township’s namesake could tarnish its image as a community. She has noted the mayor’s suggestion about finding a new namesake for the township as an alternative.
“I think it would be unnecessary (now) for me to speak on the subject,” Leman stated in an email to the Reflet-News.
Mayor Leroux has provided his cellphone contact number with an offer to listen to any calls from critics of the name change issue.
“We are better than this,” said Mayor Leroux. “I believe we can have an open and honest discussion, without the need to attack each other. Do not attack our township employees. They care about this community as much as you do.”