Should statues of Sir John A. Macdonald be taken down? Canada’s minister of Indigenous services says no

Of note and right approach:

As shock waves continue to reverberate following the discovery of a gravesite of 215 Indigenous children, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller spoke out Wednesday against taking down the statues of the prime minister responsible for creating the residential schools that led to their deaths.

Miller said removing statues of Sir John A Macdonald from public display would amount to Canadians taking their eyes off the brutal history and legacy of the schools.

“Knocking things down, breaking things is not my preferred option. Turning my eyes away from things is not my preferred option,” Miller said during a news conference in a government building named after Macdonald.

“Looking at things as painful as they are, explaining why they are, is my preferred option.”

Across the country, institutions and local governments are resuming efforts to remove statues of Canada’s first prime minister, and to rename streets and schools whose namesakes have a direct connection to Canada’s residential school program.

Similar such movements have become flashpoints over the last several years, including last summer in the wake of global Black Lives Matter protests, when Miller and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke out against taking down the monuments.

But the outpouring of anger now is more directly targeted at the heart of one of Macdonald’s legacies: the residential school system.

The revelation last week that 215 children were buried in unmarked graves on the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. is leading to fresh rounds of soul-searching about whether and how Canada must come to grips with the deadly effect of those schools, which were initiated by Macdonald’s government in 1883.

During the century that followed — the last school closed in 1996 — about 150,000 Indigenous children were removed from their homes and forced to attend what Miller called “labour camps” that were built for the express purpose of eradicating their culture.

At least 4,000 children are known to have died while attending residential schools. Following the discovery of the graves in Kamloops last week, those estimates have begun to climb, with some now speculating the number could be as high as 25,000.

“We know there are lots of sites similar to Kamloops that are going to come to light in the future. We need to begin to prepare ourselves for that,” former senator Murray Sinclair said in a written statement late Tuesday.

“Those that are survivors and intergenerational survivors need to understand that this information is important for all of Canada to understand the magnitude of the truth of this experience.”

What must be done with that information is a debate taking many forms, be it the removal of Macdonald statues or the demands for the federal government to move much faster to implement the calls to action on missing children and burial information contained in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report on residential schools.

In 2019, some $27 million was set aside to respond to those calls, but the funds were redirected to address the impacts of the pandemic and to finish off virtual engagement sessions on the response to the TRC, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett’s office said Wednesday.

Some money began to flow last year. On Wednesday, Bennett announced communities that want to begin the work of documenting, locating and memorializing missing children could apply anew and the money would flow on an “urgent” basis.

How that work is done must be determined in consultation with communities, Bennett and Miller have insisted.

The ministers said on Tuesday it is also important to listen to those who speak out against Macdonald.

However, Miller said the debate over renaming buildings or taking down statues has become too partisan, and misses the point.

“I respect the meaning and the expression of people saying we need to take this down, rip it down,” he said.

“It’s an expression of pain. I understand. I’m not a proponent of it. I think we have to keep explaining. We have to keep explaining so that we don’t repeat those errors.”

Conservative politicians have also spoken out against the need to tear down statues, though for different reasons, arguing doing so amounts to so-called “cancel culture.”

Conservatives including Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and federal Leader Erin O’Toole have also said removing statues of people like Macdonald would also erase all acknowledgment of the benefits they provided to Canada.

Source: Should statues of Sir John A. Macdonald be taken down? Canada’s minister of Indigenous services says no

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney defends John A. Macdonald’s legacy amid backlash over residential schools’ deadly legacy

Rare defence these days. But like all historical figures, a mix of the good and the bad, just as we too will likely be judged by future generations:

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney drew criticism Tuesday with a staunch defence of the legacy of Canada’s first prime minister — who is back in the spotlightafter the discovery of a mass burial site of Indigenous children near a former residential school.

Yet another statue of Sir John A. Macdonald was carted off in the back of a truck Tuesday; this time, it was a jaunty seated version of Macdonald removed from a Charlottetown street corner.

The removal in Prince Edward Island was the latest public consequence of Macdonald’s role in creating a residential school system for Indigenous children, which spawned decades of abuse and death.

Three quarters of a country to the west, Kenney decried what he described as the cancellation of one of the architects of the country, “imperfect” though he may have been.

“I think Canada is a great historical achievement,” Kenney told reporters in response to a question that followed an update on his province’s vaccine rollout.

“It is a country that people all around the world seek to join as new Canadians. It is an imperfect country, but it is still a great country, just as John A Macdonald was an imperfect man, but was still a great leader.”

Grand Chief Vernon Watchmaker of Treaty Six, an area that includes much of the central parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan, said in a statement he was “appalled” at the insensitivity of the premier’s comments at a time when Indigenous people from coast to coast are grieving the discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

“The country and the province was established at the cost of our lives and well being,” he said.

“Just when we think we are experiencing acts of reconciliation, the premier contradicts all the efforts towards an understanding.”

Macdonald, a Scottish immigrant who became Canada’s first prime minister in 1867, has been under increasing scrutiny for his role creating the residential schools system. In 1883, Macdonald spelled out in the House of Commons his thinking on the schools, which would come to number more than 130 from coast to coast.

“Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools, where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men,” he said, as quoted in the House of Commons record of debates.

Tuesday is not the first time that Kenney has gone to bat for Macdonald, who, Kenney points out, tried to extend the vote to some First Nations. Last summer, Kenney said he’d like to see a Macdonald statue toppled by protesters in Montreal installed on the grounds of the Alberta legislature.

The discovery of the bodies in Kamloops, however, has triggered a fresh wave of pushback against Macdonald and the other creators of the system.

The Macdonald statue in Prince Edward Island, which news reports note has been defaced several times this year, is going into storage. Meanwhile, a group of students at Ryerson University say they will now refer to the institution as ‘X University,’ because of Egerton Ryerson’s association with the schools. And in Calgary, a school named for cabinet minister Hector-Louis Langevin is being rebranded.

When asked Tuesday, Kenney said he was unaware of that last decision, which had been announced hours earlier and instead, repeated his support for the former first minister.

He said that when he was a federal minister he’d founded a bill to recognize a John A Macdonald Day, to acknowledge the man “without whom Canada would not exist.”

“This is the problem with your line of questioning,” he said, speaking to the reporter who’d asked about the statue. “If the new standard is to cancel any figure in our history associated with what we now rightly regard as historical injustices, then essentially that is the vast majority of our history.”

Kenney listed Tommy Douglas and the Famous Five, who pushed to get the vote for white women, all of whom to some extent supported eugenics as a way to sterilize the weak.

He also mentioned Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, who made it effectively impossible for Jews to immigrate to Canada during the Holocaust, and prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who brought in martial law that led to the arrest of “thousands of people with absolutely nothing to do with the FLQ Crisis.”

On the other hand, he pointed out that former prime minister Stephen Harper made an official apology to residential school survivors, and that the federal government has provided more than $3.5 billion in restitution.

After the discovery in Kamloops was announced last week, Kenney tweeted that it was a “terrible reminder of the legacy of Canada’s system of aboriginal residential schools.”

His then became the first province to announce it would help fund the search for more unmarked graves, though officials have announced no details or specific dollar amounts so far.

But his unflagging support of Macdonald comes at a time when his government is facing growing fire for failing to educate children about residential schools.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has called on every child to learn about residential schools starting in kindergarten. But the proposed curriculum drafted by Kenney’s government doesn’t begin teaching that history until Grade 5.

As reported by CBC, one of the people hired to review the social studies draft, a man named Chris Champion who previously worked for Kenney when he was a federal minister, has called the inclusion of First Nations perspectives in school a fad, and said the blanket exercise commonly used to teach about the effects of colonialism brainwashes children.

Furthermore, some Indigenous leaders asked to consult on the new curriculum have accused the government of engaging in tokenism and of misrepresenting their positions.

Kenney said the new plan would be an improvement over the current curriculum, which doesn’t introduce residential schools until Grade 10 and that the amount of content students will learn increases overall.

“I think that’s the solution, which is to present young people, to present all Canadians, including new Canadians, with a balanced depiction of our history, including the terrible gross injustice and tragedy of the Indian residential schools.”

Source: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney defends John A. Macdonald’s legacy amid backlash over residential schools’ deadly legacy

Sir John A. statue in Charlottetown will stay, but he’ll have some company

Good approach, expanding our knowledge of history and historical figures, the good and the bad,  rather than removal:

The controversial statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in downtown Charlottetown will remain, but with some modifications.

Monday evening, Charlottetown city council voted 8-1 in favour of adopting five recommendations presented by the Abegweit Assembly of Councils, a joint forum that includes the councils of both Abegweit First Nation and Lennox Island First Nation.

The assembly said it had made five suggestions to the city to amend the art installation and “tell the true story of this individual and begin to address the trauma that its presence is continuing to perpetuate,” the statement said.

Source: Sir John A. statue in Charlottetown will stay, but he’ll have some company

Boswell: O’Toole’s anti-cancel-culture campaign is really a defence of commemorative status quo

Good contrast between virtue signalling on historical figures versus having a more meaningful discussion on options, ranging from removal or relocation accompanied by interpretive placques:

Erin O’Toole launched his campaign for the leadership of the federal Conservatives one year ago today — on Jan. 27, 2020 — with a video message in which he positioned himself as a champion of Canadian heritage and an avowed enemy of “cancel culture”.

The video was filmed in a snowy Major’s Hill Park in downtown Ottawa, with the Parliament Buildings and a statue of Rideau Canal builder Lt.-Col. John By providing background scenery.

Shots of O’Toole walking and talking about his campaign against this evocative backdrop were interspersed with file footage of a controversial statue of Sir John A. Macdonald being hauled away from the entrance of Victoria City Hall after demands from B.C. Indigenous leaders in 2018.

“Who’s going to defend our history, our institutions,” O’Toole asks, “against attacks from cancel culture and the radical left?”

Since O’Toole’s campaign launch 12 months ago with that one-minute, 46-second video — leading up to and following his unexpected victory in the Tory leadership contest in August — the Ontario MP has repeatedly cast himself as a courageous cultural warrior (with a military pedigree, as we are constantly reminded) who is not afraid to fight those bent on “erasing our history.”

It’s become part of O’Toole’s personal brand as party leader and it’s now a central message in Conservative recruitment and fundraising strategies.

The party’s website features a “Stop Cancel Culture” pitch for donations and new members — superimposed on a photo of the recently beheaded Montreal statue of Macdonald — that echoes O’Toole’s mantra: “We can’t keep destroying our history.”

It’s time for a reality check — and a reminder that what O’Toole monolithically characterizes as “our history” is better understood in 21st-century Canada as a multitude of competing versions of the past, seen from a variety of ethnocultural, regional and other perspectives, many of which have really only begun to find expression in Canada’s landscape of commemoration.

O’Toole and his party are misusing the term “cancel culture” to stoke anger, attract followers and cash, and generally energize a reactionary campaign that could thwart a long overdue, orderly reassessment of how we commemorate history in Canada’s public spaces and honourary nomenclature.

Yes, unthinking vandals like those who knocked down the Macdonald statue in Montreal last summer, or have spray-painted graffiti on other Macdonald monuments in Kingston and elsewhere in recent years, have unwittingly given oxygen to O’Toole’s campaign.

But that’s just the extreme end of a broad spectrum of reformists who recognize that hundreds of years of embedded racism in Canadian society is quite unsurprisingly reflected in place names and monuments and other landmarks honouring the 18th– and 19th-century elites of imperial Britain and colonial Canada.

Defacers and destroyers of public monuments should be punished for their crimes, and those who may sympathize with such counterproductive attacks should direct their reformist energies to legitimate processes — at city halls, provincial legislatures, universities — to push for constructive changes to public commemoration.

Unfortunately, O’Toole has also condemned these kinds of moderate reform efforts, conflating his criticism of extremist actions with his attacks on thoughtful, informed, consultative, democratic decision-making that has also been occurring and which must be at the heart of rethinking and revitalizing our public memorials.

This is, in fact, the kind of fair and open process that is being undertaken to determine the fate of the Macdonald statue in Victoria.

The statue had been erected just a few metres from the front entrance of Victoria’s municipal headquarters in 1982 after it was gifted to the city by the B.C.-based Sir John A. Macdonald Historical Society.

To B.C. Indigenous leaders, who had to pass the statue every time they attended meetings of a city committee crafting Victoria’s reconciliation strategy, the unavoidable sight of a bronze tribute to the man they hold chiefly responsible for the cultural genocide of their peoples posed a serious obstacle to their participation in that process.

A 2018 decision by city council to remove the monument was followed by further public consultations in March 2020 about its possible relocation. Then the pandemic put the issue on pause. The statue is likely to be relocated and adorned with a history-balancing plaque once the pandemic eases and final consultations can proceed.

A similar multi-stage decision-making effort was made at Queen’s University in Kingston, where there was overwhelming support from students and faculty members — despite some well-argued dissent during an extensive consultation process — to rename John A. Macdonald Hall, the main law building on campus, out of respect for Indigenous law students.

O’Toole’s churlish reaction? “Another victim of cancel culture,” he tweeted when Queen’s announced the decision, just as he has repeatedly lambasted Victoria for what he falsely insists is “erasing history.”

In a similar case with a different outcome, the citizens of Picton, Ont., were consulted about what should happen to a Macdonald statue in the centre of that town before municipal councillors cast their decisive vote in November. The bronze tribute to Macdonald’s early law career will remain in place alongside “respectful and historically accurate messaging” to be displayed on a plaque offering a more balanced perspective on Macdonald’s legacy. Other initiatives will be undertaken to promote “anti-racist attitudes and inclusiveness of marginalized peoples.”

People of good conscience will disagree. Some communities will remove statues or names. Others will choose a different path. But local decisions for local reasons should prevail, once the public has had an informed, reasoned discussion about the challenges involved in both preserving and balancing Canada’s complicated history in our public commemorations.

Why dismiss such moderate measures as “cancel culture”? Because that’s a term that increasingly conjures negative reactions from free-speech advocates and the broader public. It typically describes a mob-like, online ostracizing of an individual that can happen to just about anyone perceived to have publicly uttered some irredeemably wrong-headed, hurtful remark — or to have committed some unforgivable act — that exposed that person’s alleged racism, misogyny, homophobia or transphobia.

If it seems odd that O’Toole and such luminaries of progressive politics as Noam Chomsky and Gloria Steinem are on the same side of a contemporary cultural debate as opponents of “cancel culture,” be reassured they’re really not.

Conservative politicians in both Canada and the U.S. have appropriated the term for their own purposes.

O’Toole has suggested on several occasions that he is aligned with the likes of Chomsky and Steinem, J.K. Rowling, Malcolm Gladwell and the other signatories of an open letter against increased “censoriousness,” “public shaming” and “illiberalism” in society, which was publishedin Harper’s Magazine last July.

They sounded an alarm about preserving space and freedom in public discourse for thoughtful dissent from absolutist stances on various social, cultural and political issues without fear of ostracization, firing and other forms of career cancellation.

Significantly, the signatories emphasized their support for “powerful protests for racial and social justice” and “wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society,” but expressed worry that certain intolerant voices on the left are pushing their “own brand of dogma or coercion — which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting.”

Canada’s Conservative leader (who typically neglects to mention Margaret Atwood and former federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff as Harper’ssignatories) obviously has a much different agenda than those decidedly non-Conservative individuals do — one that has no real relationship to the internet bullying that the letter-writers are campaigning against.

Yet O’Toole enjoys the supposed company of Atwood, Ignatieff et al. The public figure O’Toole wants to save from social media de-platforming — a certain booze-loving Father of Confederation who genuinely deserves great credit for overcoming linguistic, religious and geographic challenges in forging modern Canada — has been dead since 1891.

“When I launched my campaign in January and said I wanted to stand up to cancel culture and the erosion of our history, the media mocked me for that,” O’Toole said in an Aug. 1 interview.  “And now a few weeks ago … J.K. Rowling, Malcolm Gladwell, 150 prominent authors all signed a letter saying we need to fight back against cancel culture.”

What O’Toole is really doing is exploiting the “cancel culture” debate to rally opposition to anyone messing with the reputation of Macdonald and other Conservative luminaries. In effect, he’s shutting down opportunities to have civil discussions about reconsidering how we do commemoration in Canada, ill-advisedly suggesting citizens should rally around one version of “our history,” and to condemn “erasing our history,” even reasonable efforts to update, diversify and (yes, in some cases) deodorize our commemorative landscape.

Does anyone really think 19th-century slave owners who resisted abolition efforts in Britain and Upper Canada — and were relatively minor figures in Canadian history anyway — should be honoured in the names of Eastern Ontario’s Russell Township, Ottawa’s Rideau-Goulbourn municipal ward, or Vaughan Secondary School in Thornhill?

O’Toole’s interventions in the debate over statues, landmarks and placenames have focused primarily on the reputational fate of Macdonald. But his recent, unguarded remarks on 19th-century Residential Schools promoter Egerton Ryerson — in that ill-fated, leaked November video call to Ryerson University’s young Tories, when he said Residential Schools were “meant to try and provide education” to Indigenous children — were in keeping with O’Toole’s broader aim to defend Canada’s pantheon of patriarchs from adversaries whom he sees as “erasing” such figures from the country’s collective memory.

For O’Toole, this is a partisan battle. The Conservative leader wants to make sure Conservative historical figures such as Macdonald and Hector-Louis Langevin — both men key players in the Confederation story but also tarnished as authors of the Residential Schools tragedy and other racist policies of the 19th century — are held no more responsible for the sins of Canadian history than Liberal icons like Wilfrid Laurier and Pierre Trudeau.

The latter is routinely (and gleefully) mentioned by O’Toole as having been prime minister when several residential schools were opened. This was a key theme in a Facebook Live video he recorded last summer in front of the former Langevin Block in Ottawa, where O’Toole took aim at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s June 2017 renaming of the building as the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council.

“I was the only one who publicly took a stand against him, because I said if we start this trend of eliminating the history to meet his political narrative, where is it going to end?” he said in a June 30 Facebook Live video message.

“You know who opened more residential schools that Hector Langevin? Your father, Justin! … I don’t see the left demanding Trudeau’s airport be renamed in Montreal. Where do they take their attack? To Conservative icons like Langevin, like Sir John A. Macdonald statues.”

Trudeau’s renaming of Langevin Block was made unilaterally — and thus foolishly — without public consultation or transparency. That’s the kind of move, however well-intentioned, that fuels O’Toole’s torqued rhetoric.

And it’s why communities that have thoughtfully, deliberately, honestly examined the darker chapters of Canadian history are providing a good model for reimagining our commemorative landscape — despite the Conservative leader’s campaign of resistance to change.

Randy Boswell is a Carleton University journalism professor and a former Ottawa Citizen and Postmedia News reporter.

Source: O’Toole’s anti-cancel-culture campaign is really a defence of commemorative status quo

Three contrasting narratives regarding statues of Sir John A and other historical figures

Three contrasting narratives: the first by Martin Regg-Cohn, of the Star (keep most statues but provide historical and social context), the second by Erica Ifill in the Globe (tear them down, lacking perspective) and the third, by Tom XXX in The Tyee, (focus on building monuments and statues to commemorate Indigenous history). In Hegelian terms, think thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

Focussing on the symbolic, while important, can divert attention away from the long and difficult tasks of improving conditions for Indigenous peoples and can be seen as one form of virtue signalling. If there were easy and simple solutions, we wouldn’t be in this space now.

Starting with Regg-Cohn:

The tug of war over public statues keeps exposing our blind spots — not just our blinkered view of history, but of democracy in all its complexity.

Sir John A. Macdonald is merely the latest historical figure to be pulled down and covered up, his head lopped off or layered with painted graffiti. Protestors in Montreal toppled our founding prime minister last weekend, and Macdonald’s visage is visible no more at Queen’s Park — protected and padlocked in a massive wooden shell after demonstrators hurled paint at his statue this summer.

Unpopular statues, like unpopular governments, ought not to be toppled in a democracy — just put in their place, placed in context, or put in storage.

Controversies over politicians of the past — like those of the present — are as old as history itself, and rarely as simple as they appear on protest placards. How we deal with them, how we heal over them, also matters in the crusade to right historical wrongs.

Sometimes the decision is obvious — like removing Confederate statues that celebrate those who lost the civil war but still succeeded in keeping Blacks down. More often it’s complicated.

Shall we remove the monument to Mahatma Gandhi at Carleton University, given latter-day criticisms of the Indian independence leader for harbouring anti-Black views? What about the monument in Toronto’s Riverdale Park to Sun Yat-sen, the revered leader who brought China into the modern era?

“Other monuments, such as to Sir Winston Churchill, to Sun Yat-sen, have also been called into question,” Wayne Reeves, chief curator of Toronto’s culture division, told the city’s Aboriginal affairs advisory committee last month.

Which raises the question of who decides. Protestors deserve to be heard but not automatically heeded. A representative democracy defined by pluralism, mindful of minority rights and majority sentiments, requires consultation and conciliation, debate and deliberation.

A statue of Edward Cornwallis, founder of Halifax was a festering sore given his infamous Scalping Proclamation of 1749 offering a bounty for any Mi’kmaq adult or child. Ultimately, the statue was removed when elected representatives took a vote in 2018 (they voted again last month to erase his name from city streets and relocate the statue in a new museum of Mi’kmaq history).

That may not be as satisfying as spray painting, or as gratifying as graffiti. But the decision is more enduring.

The controversy over Macdonald is complicated — and in many ways intertwined with the debate over Egerton Ryerson, whose statue at Ryerson University was covered in pink paint by the same protestors this summer. As one scholar looking into Ryerson’s relationship with residential schools noted, his name is “incorrectly linked to the ‘architect’ label;” instead, wrote Sean Carleton, “Macdonald must be understood as its architect.”

(Full disclosure: as a visiting practitioner at Ryerson’s Faculty of Arts, I walk by his statue on campus; I see his visage again inside the legislature when I walk by the Ryerson bust perched just outside NDP Leader Andrea Horwath’s office).

Perhaps that’s why Ryerson University added a plaque in 2018 introducing more context: “As Chief Superintendent of Education, Ryerson’s recommendations were instrumental in the design and implementation of the Indian Residential School System,” it reads.

That he also pioneered the modernization of Ontario’s educational system remains beyond dispute. The question is how to reconcile conflicting legacies for people like Ryerson, Macdonald, Churchill, Gandhi, and others.

At Queen’s Park, Macdonald lies boarded up. What’s interesting is that few other statues, such as one honouring Queen Victoria — who presided over so much of our complicated colonial history — get much attention.

A few steps away, a monument honours the “memory of the officers and men who fell on the battlefields of the North-West in 1885,” which surely invites historical context and Indigenous input. The previous speaker of the legislature, Dave Levac, campaigned for years to erect a new to monument to the Métis leader Louis Riel, who led the Northwest Rebellion and was later executed during Macdonald’s time as PM.

Surely the answer to our complicated historical record is to clarify and contextualize it, rather than censor it — which is why the recent addition of anonymous historical plaques adding context to some of Toronto’s most problematic landmarks and street names is so interesting and educational. Far better to fill in the gaps of history rather than create new historical vacuums in a country where few of us have taken the time to learn it.

“The problem I have with the overall approach to tearing down statues and buildings is that is counterproductive,” said Sen. Murray Sinclair, who headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigating the Residential Schools disaster. “We are trying to create more balance in the relationship.”

That’s similar to the approach taken by Nelson Mandela, who launched a pioneering truth and reconciliation commission when he became the first president of post-apartheid South Africa. As president, he avoided reflexively razing the statues of his racist predecessors, opting for a more deliberative approach (some came down, others remained).

Mandela, like Gandhi, understood the frailty and flaws of all humans, not least our leaders. Let he who is without sin cast the first bronze.

In a classic example of what the late John Lewis called “good trouble,”Montreal demonstrators removed the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from a public space without injury at a protest to defund the police last Saturday. And the outrage from the white Canadian men in whose image Canadian history is taught was swift.

But context has been missing from so many pearl-clutching responses. In this second civil rights movement, where Black Lives Matter has brought global attention to police violence and death wrought on Black people, the traditional framing of criminality is being challenged. Even our current Prime Minister has engaged in at least the pageantry of it; just months earlier, Justin Trudeau attended an anti-police brutality march in Ottawa, going so far as to take a knee reminiscent of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s years-long protest over the same issue.

Fast forward to his response to the statue toppling, and his tone has changed. Much like his reaction to the protests in support of some Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Mr. Trudeau has morphed from white ally to condescending white settler colonialist. “We are a country of laws, and we are a country that needs to respect those laws even as we seek to improve and change them,” he said on Monday. “Those kinds of acts of vandalism are not advancing the path towards greater justice and equality in this country.”

With allyship like this, who needs enemies?

In doing this, Mr. Trudeau was eager to show off his law-and-order bona fides. But if he is still seeking to advance “greater justice and equality,” he undermines his own allegedly progressive message by vaunting the very laws that underpin many of the problems being protested – including laws Macdonald helped establish at the start of Confederation. (And imagine having the temerity to scold Canadians about respecting the law after proroguing Parliament to avoid judgement from those same laws, in your second ethics scandal in as many years.)

It’s not as if this issue came out of nowhere for Mr. Trudeau, either. The removal of monuments exalting the father of Confederation has been in the national discourse for years. However, Canadians like to engage in the vanity exercise of cherry-picking the history we’re comfortable with, leaving out the icky bits that don’t uphold our worldview of being “good people.” The reality, though, is that Canada’s first prime minister was an oppressive colonist whose deployment of state violence was instrumental in the formation of the nation. These aren’t “mistakes made by previous generations who built this country,”as Mr. Trudeau falsely characterized them; rather, this was a man who committed real atrocities that formed and informed how the Canadian state interacts with Black, Indigenous and people of colour, to this day.

Here are just a few achievements on his résumé: The creation of the federal residential school system, which was used as a form of genocide against Indigenous peoples; the creation of the pass system, a program of social control requiring Indigenous people to attain permission to leave the reserve (and which was then exported to South Africa, where it was used to control Black South Africans during apartheid); the execution of Louis Riel; a starvation policy to clear Indigenous people off their lands and make way for the Canadian Pacific Railway; the largest mass execution in Canadian history, when eight Indigenous men fighting that starvation policy were hanged in what is known as the Frog Lake Massacre; the implementation of the Chinese Head Tax; and the passage of the Electoral Franchise Act, which denied Black and Indigenous people the vote.

Those same racialized groups targeted by MacDonald in the formation and dominion of Canada continue to be the targets of systemic racism and oppression today.

Ignoring inconvenient truths makes for bad leadership. And the paucity of leadership from Mr. Trudeau is evident, or else there wouldn’t have needed to be a protest in Montreal in the first place. Five years after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report, we are still waiting on this government to implement its recommendations. Nearly three months after Mr. Trudeau took the knee, we are no closer to systemic reforms, despite the credible plans on the table. And in June, the Parliamentary Black Caucus called on the federal government to dedicate real resources toward ending anti-Black systemic racism: “This is not a time for further discussion – the Afro-Canadian community has spoken for many years and is no longer interested in continued consultation or study. Extensive reports and serious proposals already exist.” That call appears to have gone unheeded.

Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, his ability to deliver on promises of transformational change has long been in dispute. Now, he has condemned protesters on the destruction of property more than he has the RCMP, for the gratuitous violence against Black and Indigenous people.

The time for double-talk is over. The time for action is now – and it’s not being well used in defending Canadian history’s leading man.


Lastly, and I think most useful, Tom McMahon:

Every so often, the removal of a statue or place name causes a minor media moment in Canada. Like this weekend, when protesters in Montreal pulled down a statue of the country’s first prime minister, the notorious racist John A. Macdonald, and beheaded him.

The media dove in. “Trudeau ‘deeply disappointed’ after demonstrators topple John A. Macdonald statue” read one headline. The prime minister’s thoughts on this “act of vandalism” filled papers across the country.

Rarely does news coverage of such stories place the topic of statues in a broader context. And political parties are usually completely silent about it too.

What is the broader context? It’s that while we can seemingly talk forever about whether a statue or place name should exist, we never seem able to discuss what does not exist. And why that might be.

What doesn’t exist in Canada, for the most part, are statues and monuments highlighting great Indigenous leaders, or highlighting exactly which Indigenous groups live in a particular place and their contributions to Canadian life. What doesn’t exist is any effort to create these monuments.

Justin Trudeau is deeply disappointed that a headless John A. Macdonald was put on the ground? Well, I’m disappointed that Trudeau has not lived up to his promise to implement the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Specifically, Call to Action #81:

We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with [Residential School] Survivors and their organizations, and other parties to the Settlement Agreement, to commission and install a publicly accessible, highly visible, Residential Schools National Monument in the city of Ottawa to honour Survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities.

I see that the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson, responsible for Parks Canada, has announced that the residential school system is an event of national historical significance and that two residential school buildings in relatively remote, unpopulated areas will be designated national historic sites.

Not in the capital cities. Not particularly publicly accessible or highly visible.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney volunteered to bring the statue of the headless racist to his province. But who will ask Kenney what he is doing to implement TRC Call to Action #82?

We call upon provincial and territorial governments, in collaboration with Survivors and their organizations, and other parties to the Settlement Agreement, to commission and install a publicly accessible, highly visible, Residential Schools Monument in each capital city to honour Survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities.

In Winnipeg, we have a monument to the Holodomor in the Ukraine in front of our city hall. A monument to the Winnipeg Rifles who were sent to put down the Riel Rebellion in Saskatchewan in 1885 is across the street.

Or for a more exhaustive example, look at Manitoba. On its legislative grounds alone you’ll find a massive monument to Queen Victoria and a smaller one to Queen Elizabeth II; one for General Wolfe who led England’s takeover of New France from France; two to Lord Douglas, to whom the London governing committee of the Hudson’s Bay Company gave a huge grant of land to settle Scots in Manitoba; one to Scottish poet Robert Burns; one to the Sieur de La Verendrye, the first European to travel to Manitoba from Lake Superior; one to Father Ritchot, Louis Riel, Marc-Amable Girard and John Norquay as early Manitobans who got the province included in Canada through the Manitoba Act (and a monument to George-Étienne Cartier who worked with them); several memorials to Manitoba soldiers killed in wars and to others who served the war efforts; one to the internment during the First World War of Ukrainian and other eastern Europeans as potential enemies of Canada; one to Taras Shevchenko, a Ukrainian poet and symbol of the important contributions of Ukrainians to the Canadian West; one to Jewish victims of the Holocaust; one to Jon Sigurdsson who led the country of Iceland to be independent from Denmark, symbolizing the important contributions of Icelandic immigrants to Manitoba; a B.C. totem pole to commemorate the 100th anniversary of B.C.’s entry into Confederation; and a commemoration of the tenth year of an exchange program between Manitoba and Japanese students.

Plus, there’s a monument to the controversial Famous Five, who won the right for propertied, well-connected women to be appointed to the Senate. Some of the five were also famous for their racism, support of eugenics and advocacy of racist drug laws.

The Famous Five should be controversial because support for being appointed to the Senate did almost nothing for women’s equality generally, and Indigenous women and children in particular are still fighting for equality in various ways nearly 100 years on.

At the University of Minnesota football stadium in Minneapolis there is a marvellous plaza showing the names, maps and a summary of information about each Tribal Nation that is in Minnesota. I have never seen a similar plaza in Canada.

Go to any provincial capital city and see what monuments there are, especially on legislative grounds. How are Indigenous peoples included in those monuments? Are they there at all?

Now go ask your premier what is happening with Call to Action #82.

Every time there’s a news article about monuments to John A. Macdonald, Cornwallis, Amherst, Langevin, Wolseley, Osborne, Douglas, Begbie, Vancouver, etc., do the media show any awareness of what monuments are not there?

Do the media have any awareness of TRC Calls to Action #81 and #82? Do the media ask the first ministers and leaders of the opposition about those Calls to Action?

Did the media ask the federal government: thanks for the announcement about the new Portage la Prairie and Shubenacadie residential school sites, but what is happening with Call to Action #81 for the capital cities?

Let’s get on with building a publicly accessible, highly visible, residential schools monument in each capital city to honour survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities.

Let’s get on with building prominent public monuments that show exactly which Indigenous peoples live in a specific region, showing the extent of their traditional territories and the dates and contents of the treaties that we signed with them.

Let’s get on with building prominent public monuments to Indigenous contributions to our lives and to Indigenous heroes.

It’s history by addition.  [Tyee]


To vilify Sir John A. Macdonald is to wrongly seek a single scapegoat for Canada’s mistreatment of Indigenous people: Bob Plamondon

A more nuanced understanding of history:

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario wants to take his name off their schools. Because of vandalism, his birthday is no longer celebrated in Kingston. Members of the Canadian Historical Association will soon vote on dropping his name from its annual literary prize. Is it only a matter of time before we knock down Sir John A. Macdonald’s statue on Parliament Hill?

How could the man so extensively studied and widely admired for the past century – the man without whom this improbable country may never have come into being – now be so vilified?

It likely began with the 2013 award-winning book by historian James Daschuk, Clearing the Plains. While the book includes only two brief quotes from Macdonald, one strikes at the heart: “We cannot allow them to die for want of food. [We] are doing all we can, by refusing food until the Indians are on the verge of starvation, to reduce the expense.”

Mr. Daschuk’s case against Macdonald’s government is disturbing. But it is also incomplete. When Macdonald made his infamous remark in the House of Commons in 1872, during a debate on government spending, it was in response to a question by Liberal MP David Mills (who later served as Justice minister in the Laurier government and then on the Supreme Court of Canada). While protesting the cost of food rations, Mills warned, “… a barbarous population like the Indians may very easily be made wholly dependent upon the government … to the extent … that it will be very difficult to induce the Indians to devote themselves to industrial pursuits.”

What Mr. Daschuk omitted in his book was Macdonald’s admonition of Mills: “In the case of apprehended famine the matter is to be dealt with on the spot … When the Indians have been starving they have been helped.”

While Macdonald can certainly be criticized, he was nonetheless enlightened by the standards of his time. He was in rare company in expressing sympathy for the Indigenous people: “We must remember that they are the original owners of the soil, of which they have been dispossessed by the covetousness or ambition of our ancestors … the Indians have been the great sufferers by the discovery of America and the transfer to it of a large white population.”

While an overt policy of assimilation is offensive, Macdonald looks saintly compared with U.S. leadership. Indeed, many Indigenous peoples migrated north, referring to the Canada-U.S. border as “The Medicine Line.”

South of the border, the commander of the U.S. army in the West once remarked, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Theodore Roosevelt moderated that statement, but only slightly: “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every 10 are.” Macdonald wanted to avoid an “Indian war” that had ravaged the United States, arguing it was better to feed them than to fight them.

At a time when Canada was overwhelmingly and overtly racist against Indigenous peoples, Macdonald offered to extend the vote to Indians. One Liberal MP said it would be like bringing a scalping party to the poll; another that it was an insult to place white brethren “on a level with pagan and barbarian Indians.” Liberals also feared that Macdonald would get most of the “Indian vote.” Full voting rights were not given until 1960.

While Macdonald’s government failed to provide adequate food rations as was stipulated in the treaties in the case of famine, Mr. Daschuk points out there was rampant bureaucratic mismanagement, fraud, local prejudice and overt cruelty of the local agents involved. Macdonald, who wanted Indigenous people to replace hunting with farming, was bewildered by news of famine and death and set up a council to study the issue. It was perhaps the first in a long line of futile commissions to study Indigenous issues.

Macdonald’s reputation has also taken a dive after the attention given more recently to the residential-schools catastrophe. While Macdonald was acting on the recommendations of the experts in his day, he was succeeded by 18 prime ministers before the last residential school was closed. As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission records, residential schools were in place before Macdonald became prime minister and did not reach their peak until about 40 years after his death.

Macdonald’s priority was a railway that would enable Canada to achieve sufficient strength to withstand the continental pressures of the United States. This required land and immigration. A tragic consequence of implementing this vision was the eradication of a long-practised Indigenous way of life. Macdonald’s failure is Canada’s failure.

Today, many Indigenous Canadians live in disgraceful conditions without access to clean water and facing epidemic levels of suicide among the youth. How will we be judged by the generations that follow? So, before historians cast their vote on Macdonald, they might want to reflect more broadly than to look for a single scapegoat.

via To vilify Sir John A. Macdonald is to wrongly seek a single scapegoat for Canada’s mistreatment of Indigenous people – The Globe and Mail