Mac­don­ald statue moved amid protests

Times Colonist - - Front Page - CINDY E. HARNETT

The statue of Canada’s first prime min­is­ter, Sir John A. Mac­don­ald, was hoisted on a five-point har­ness from its place out­side Vic­to­ria’s city hall early Satur­day amid cheer­ing, boo­ing and dis­agree­ments about the politi­cian’s le­gacy.

City crews started the process at 5 a.m. af­ter some prepa­ra­tion, in­clud­ing erect­ing tem­po­rary fenc­ing Fri­day night. The statue was driven away on a flatbed truck by 7:30 a.m. Af­ter­ward, crews re­mained to in­stall an in­ter­pre­tive sign in the statue’s place.

The 635-kilo­gram bronze statue, in­stalled in 1982, was cut with a saw un­der its lime­stone base — the metal rods hold­ing it down were sev­ered — and was re­moved with much care and at­ten­tion.

At this point, some by­standers be­gan singing O Canada, while oth­ers ap­plauded and some booed.

The fi­nal stage of the lift and trans­porta­tion of the statue was ac­com­pa­nied by peo­ple singing “na na na na, na na na na, hey, hey, good­bye” to drown out those with hands on hearts singing O Canada.

Matthew Bree­den, one of a few young men wrapped in Cana­dian flags, said he came down to city hall to show re­spect for Mac­don­ald, de­scrib­ing the re­moval of his statue as “like a fu­neral process.”

“I don’t sup­port them tak­ing down the statue; we want more de­bate,” Bree­den said.

Bradley Cle­ments, 28, held a sign read­ing: “No hon­our in geno­cide.”

Coun­ter­ing opin­ions that the pres­ence of the statue pro­motes ed­u­ca­tional di­a­logue about his­tory, Cle­ments said: “If that’s the case, it’s failed.”

Cle­ments said few who pass the statue know Mac­don­ald, who was mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for Vic­to­ria from 1878 to 1882, as the ar­chi­tect of res­i­den­tial schools and other poli­cies of as­sim­i­la­tion un­der the Indian Act, and his re­fusal to sup­ply food to starv­ing First Na­tions on the Prairies.

“I think the act of re­mov­ing it is start­ing that nec­es­sary di­a­logue,” he said.

His friend Kate Loomer, 25, said she has passed the statue — a statue that of­fends many In­dige­nous peo­ple — and never even no­ticed it.

“At no point did any­one ever say: ‘Let’s meet at the statue and talk about In­dige­nous rights and truth and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion,’ ” Loomer said. “That’s the point.”

Tsastilqualus, 64, born and raised in Alert Bay and a fourth­gen­er­a­tion res­i­den­tial-school sur­vivor, was proud to wit­ness the re­moval “of a shame­ful part of Canada’s his­tory.”

Tsastilqualus wants the statue moved to a mu­seum with an ex­pla­na­tion of all facets of Mac­don­ald’s poli­cies — as well as an up­date on why the statue was moved from Vic­to­ria City Hall.

Eric McWilliam, 27, ar­rived on his elec­tric bike about 5 a.m.

Un­til two days ago, McWilliam said, he was a fan of Vic­to­ria Mayor Lisa Helps, but now he is of­fended that the mayor shut down pub­lic de­bate over the statue’s re­moval and that she “and a small group of po­lit­i­cal elites” made the de­ci­sion.

“You can’t stop free speech,” McWilliam said.

Bar­bara Todd-Hager, 58, a tele­vi­sion pro­ducer who is Métis, said she felt a lot of pride for her In­dige­nous re­la­tions and friends that Mac­don­ald’s dis­crim­i­na­tory poli­cies are now be­ing ac­knowl­edged.

“This is a re­ally strong state­ment that big­otry and racism doesn’t have a place in our court­yards or city halls,” she said.

The de­ci­sion to re­move the statue was made by three city coun­cil­lors and First Na­tions rep­re­sen­ta­tives who met over the past year as part of a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process. In mak­ing their rec­om­men­da­tion to city coun­cil, they cited Mac­don­ald’s in­volve­ment in cre­at­ing the res­i­den­tial-school sys­tem, which forced First Na­tions chil­dren away from their homes and sub­jected them to abuse.

Sev­eral hours af­ter the re­moval, a protest against the ac­tion and the process that led to it grew tense. About 12 Vic­to­ria po­lice of­fi­cers over­saw sev­eral an­gry and loud de­bates, as peo­ple chant­ing “Hey hey, ho ho, Lisa Helps has got to go” were drowned out by an­other fac­tion singing “Hey hey, ho ho, white su­prem­a­cists have got to go.”

Plac­ards read “We’re not eras­ing his­tory, we are mak­ing it,” while oth­ers were along the lines of “Sir John A., you’re OK.”

The protest was or­ga­nized by a group called B.C. Proud.

“Is this re­ally what po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness has come to?” Aaron Gunn, spokesman for B.C. Proud, asked in a state­ment. “Top­pling a mon­u­ment to the Fa­ther of Con­fed­er­a­tion, who united us, built our coun­try and de­liv­ered on the au­da­cious prom­ise of a na­tional rail­way. Was he per­fect? No. That doesn’t mean we have to tear down what came be­fore us; it doesn’t mean we have to erase our past.”

Re­tired lawyer Robert Drew was dis­ap­pointed by the gath­er­ing, say­ing there was no room for civil de­bate, and he thought to move too deep into the crowd would be “dan­ger­ous.”

Po­lice were quick to talk to mem­bers of the Soldiers of Odin when they ar­rived.

The pres­i­dent of the Soldiers of Odin Van­cou­ver Is­land chap­ter, Con­rad, who de­clined to give his last name, told the Times Colonist he came to de­fend free speech and to note his dis­agree­ment with the statue’s re­moval.

“Sir John A. Mac­don­ald is one of our found­ing fathers, and I think it should stay,” he said.

The group’s Face­book page de­scribes its mis­sion as: “Fight­ing for your right to free speech, op­pose il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, and help our fel­low Cana­di­ans.”

Some by­standers ex­pressed con­cern about the ar­rival of the Soldiers of Odin, and some moved to the other side of Pan­dora Av­enue.

The protest be­gan to wind down when rain drove many away.

Helps said the small gath­er­ing at city hall, with peo­ple de­bat­ing their views on Cana­dian his­tory, rep­re­sents democ­racy and that’s a good thing — “one of the last­ing le­ga­cies cre­ated by Sir John A. Mac­don­ald.”

She was not dis­turbed by some peo­ple ask­ing for her res­ig­na­tion, say­ing it’s not the first time and it won’t be the last.

Coun­cil­lors voted 8-1 on Thurs­day night to rat­ify a 7-1 com­mit­teeof-the-whole rec­om­men­da­tion to re­move the statue. (One coun­cil­lor was ab­sent for the com­mit­tee vote.) Only Coun. Geoff Young was op­posed, on the prin­ci­ple that the pub­lic de­served to be in­cluded in the dis­cus­sion.

Other coun­cil­lors who voted for the statue’s re­moval agreed on this point, ex­plain­ing they learned about the re­moval plan only when it ap­peared on a com­mit­tee-of-the­w­hole agenda on Tues­day or on the mayor’s blog on Wed­nes­day.

The Toronto Sun re­ported that On­tario Premier Doug Ford’s gov­ern­ment wrote to Helps on Fri­day of­fer­ing to take the statue and erect it on gov­ern­ment prop­erty, but the of­fer was re­jected.

John Dann, who cre­ated the bronze statue in 1981, said he is hon­oured if his sculp­ture can en­gen­der a dis­cus­sion about the vi­o­lence in­flicted on First Na­tions peo­ple.

“I am not sure that re­mov­ing the sculp­ture is the best way to ac­com­plish this,” he wrote in a let­ter to the mayor.

The sign erected Satur­day in the statue’s place reads: “In 2017, the City of Vic­to­ria be­gan a jour­ney of truth and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with the Lek­wun­gen peo­ples, the Songhees and Esquimalt Na­tions, on whose ter­ri­to­ries the city stands.

“The mem­bers of the city fam­ily — part of the city’s wit­ness rec­on­cil­i­a­tion pro­gram — have de­ter­mined that to show progress on the path of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion the city should re­move the statue of Sir John A. Mac­don­ald from the front doors of city hall, while the city, the na­tions and the wider com­mu­nity grap­ple with Mac­don­ald’s com­plex his­tory as both the first prime min­is­ter of Canada and a leader of vi­o­lence against In­dige­nous Peo­ples.

“The statue is be­ing stored in a city fa­cil­ity. We will keep the pub­lic in­formed as the wit­ness rec­on­cil­i­a­tion pro­gram un­folds, and as we find a way to re­con­tex­tu­al­ize Mac­don­ald in an ap­pro­pri­ate way. For more in­for­ma­tion please visit www.vic­to­­on­cil­i­a­tion.”

The metal post and frame for the sign had been fab­ri­cated for an­other pur­pose and the de­cal with the in­scrip­tion took only hours to make in the city’s sign shop — a de­ci­sion made by city staff af­ter the coun­cil vote to re­move the statue.


The statue of Sir John A. Mac­don­ald is hoisted away from the Pan­dora Av­enue en­trance to Vic­to­ria City Hall on Satur­day morn­ing.

Demon­stra­tors came out ei­ther in sup­port of or op­posed to the re­moval of the statue of Sir John A. Mac­don­ald, af­ter it was re­moved. The gath­er­ing was vo­cal, but largely peace­ful.

The statue is lifted off its base be­fore be­ing driven away on a flatbed truck on Satur­day morn­ing.

An in­ter­pre­tive sign has been erected where the statue of Sir John A. Mac­don­ald stood out­side Vic­to­ria City Hall.

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