A decision by London city councillors to remove Trooper Mark Wilson’s name from city amenities is prompting calls to look at how the city names things in the future.
During Tuesday night’s council meeting, the move to change all amenities named after Wilson was approved after evidence came to light that he assaulted a fellow Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) member.
Ward 5 Coun. Maureen Cassidy proposed an amendment to the motion to direct city staff to launch a comprehensive review of every city amenity named after specific people and see if they warrant renaming, but later withdrew her push for the amendment.
“What my amendment was seeking was that they not only do this review on how we’re going to name things going forward, I want to go backwards, and I want to look at all of the places and streets and community centres, etc., that are named after people and see if those names fit with where we are today in 2022,” she said.
Although Cassidy withdrew her initial motion, she told Global News she plans to bring it forward to the community and protective services committee after more research is put into it.
Wilson, who died in 2006 while serving in Afghanistan, has long been recognized as a local war hero, having an annual charity ride named in his honour, as well as a park and a street.
Last week, Wilson was the subject of reporting from the London Free Press that revealed he had been convicted of assaulting a woman, a fellow Canadian Armed Forces member, in 2004, while both were recruits in a military training program.
According to the report, Wilson was charged with sexual assault and drunkenness following a military investigation.
During his court-martial, he pleaded not guilty to sexual assault but guilty to simple assault and drunkenness under the National Defence Act, and was given a reprimand and fined $1,500.
The victim, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, told the London Free Press the annual praise and events in his name were a reminder of what had happened.
After the news came out, Mayor Ed Holder immediately called for a review of all the places the name was used and penned a letter to council along with several other councillors to this effect.
Holder spoke during the meeting about council’s commitment to creating a safe place for women and girls in the community.
The London Abused Women’s Centre’s executive director applauds the decision to support women who speak out.
“When we first found out about what was going on, we very much took a stand of his name being taken down. It’s really important because we also have to think about the woman in the case,” Jennifer Dunn said.
“The City of London, there’s a specific pillar in the strategic plan that is all about creating a safe London for women and girls, and so the mayor is right to do what he’s done and bring this forward.”
In the wake of the reporting, Wilson’s parents have retained London lawyer Phillip Millar, who told Global News Wilson’s parents are “devastated” by the decision.
“They ask to make representations to city council because there were parts of the story that we’re not told in the Free Press article, and it appears that city council just responded with a lack of courage and too quickly came to a decision that affects the legacy of a war hero and has deeply hurt a Memorial Cross family,” Millar said.
He also notes that this news has been especially hard on Wilson’s mom, Carolyn Wilson, who has served as a Silver Cross Mother in local Remembrance Day ceremonies.
Millar echoed previous statements saying the decision was unfair given that Wilson could not defend himself or give his side of the story.
“They did such a disrespect to a family to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for women’s shelters and hospitals in their son’s name by not allowing them a seat at the table.”
However, for Dunn, the facts speak for themselves.
“I think that back then, he was given his chance to speak. I mean, he pled guilty. Yes, it was a lesser offence, but he still pled guilty to it.
“For a woman who has experienced sexual assault or, in this case, he pled guilty to assault, she pretty much has to serve a life sentence. Yes, he lost his life by serving his country, but this woman is walking down the street and can see a street name named after somebody who changed her life forever,” Dunn said.
Dunn thinks more thought needs to be put into naming rights in the future.
“I think everybody just needs to be careful. Do we need to actually be naming things after people?” Dunn said.
“Having a building or a street or whatever named after someone maybe is not the direction that we need to be going in the future.”
—with files from Global News’ Andrew Graham and Matthew Trevithick
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