In Canada, a de­bate over mon­u­ments to a founder who was also a racist

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and whose poli­cies in­cluded a forced school­ing pro­gram for more than 100,000 chil­dren that a na­tional com­mis­sion re­cently de­clared “cul­tural geno­cide.”

Now Kingston, the place where he is most hon­ored, has be­come ground zero in a de­bate over how — or if — to com­mem­o­rate his legacy.

Like the cur­rent dis­pute in the United States over Civil War mon­u­ments, the sub­ject is an emo­tion­ally charged one in Canada, but it has been lim­ited to ar­gu­ments and acts of van­dal­ism, without any vi­o­lent clashes.

A union of el­e­men­tary school­teach­ers in On­tario passed a res­o­lu­tion this month call­ing on school boards to strip Macdon­ald’s name from the nine schools in the prov­ince, Canada’s most pop­u­lous, that bear it, a move that out­raged many Cana­di­ans and drew sharp crit­i­cism from some politi­cians.

John Baird, a min­is­ter in the pre­vi­ous Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment, told the Cana­dian Broad­cast­ing that scrub­bing Macdon­ald’s name from schools was “crazy and ridicu­lous,” an ex­am­ple of “try­ing to erase Cana­dian his­tory in the guise of an ex­treme and rad­i­cal po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness.”

But Perry Bel­le­garde, the na­tional chief of the Assem­bly of First Na­tions, Canada’s largest indigenous or­ga­ni­za­tion, said that re­mov­ing Macdon­ald’s name from schools could be part of the pro­gram promised by Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau to rec­on­cile with Canada’s indigenous peo­ple for wrongs like forced school­ing.

The coun­try’s Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion spent about six years gath­er­ing tes­ti­mony from sur­viv- ing stu­dents of the indigenous board­ing schools, and Trudeau has com­mit­ted to ful­fill­ing most of the 96 rec­om­men­da­tions for rec­on­cil­ing with indigenous peo­ple pro­posed by the com­mis­sion.

Over a pe­riod of roughly 100 years, about 150,000 indigenous chil­dren were taken from their fam­i­lies, some­times by the po­lice, and sent to the res­i­den­tial schools that were ad­min­is­tered by churches.

The com­mis­sion found that many of those chil­dren were sex­u­ally and phys­i­cally abused at the schools and some died. The teach­ers and staff at many schools were in­com­pe­tent or worse, the com­mis­sion found, adding that “child ne­glect was in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized.”

Macdon­ald said that an indigenous child ed­u­cated where he or she lives “is sim­ply a sav­age who can read and write,” whereas chil­dren sent to board­ing schools “will ac­quire the habits and modes of thought of white men.” To as­sim­i­late stu­dents, the schools banned indigenous lan­guages and pro­hib­ited, some­times force­fully, indigenous cul­tural prac­tices.

Macdon­ald also cleared the path for a transcon­ti­nen­tal rail­way in the 1880s in some ar­eas by with­hold­ing food re­lief for indigenous peo­ple dur­ing a famine un­til they moved to gov­ern­mentestab­lished re­serves. The res­i­dents of sev­eral re­serves were con­fined to them un­less they could ob­tain a pass from a gov­ern­ment agent to travel.

In Kingston’s leafy City Park, which in­cludes a cricket ground, a statue of Macdon­ald, who led Canada from 1867 to 1873 and then again from 1878 un­til his death in 1891, has be­come a cen­ter of cel­e­bra­tions and protests.

Four­teen years ago, Arthur Milnes, a local au­thor and self-de­scribed “pub­lic his­to­rian,” gath­ered eight peo­ple at the statue on Jan. 11, Macdon­ald’s gen­er­ally ac­cepted birth­day. They sang O Canada and God Save the Queen and of­fered a toast to the for­mer prime min­is­ter, whose love of drink­ing is part of his lore.

In sub­se­quent years, the crowd grew into the hun­dreds, choirs per­formed, and Milnes re­ceived money from the pre­vi­ous Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment for a va­ri­ety of Macdon­ald-re­lated com­mem­o­ra­tions.

This Jan­uary, there was no toast, a step Milnes said he took in the in­ter­est of pub­lic safety.

Felipe Pareja, the teacher from sub­ur­ban Toronto who in­tro­duced the mo­tion to re­move Macdon­ald’s name from schools, said the tim­ing, in con­nec­tion with the re­cent vi­o­lence in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia, was just a co­in­ci­dence. The push to get rid of the Macdon­ald name, he said, came out of rec­om­men­da­tions of the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion of Canada, the in­quiry that con­demned Macdon­ald’s school po­lices.

“These res­i­den­tial schools were cre­ated for the pur­pose of separat­ing abo­rig­i­nal chil­dren from their fam­i­lies, in or­der to min­i­mize and weaken fam­ily ties and cul­tural link­ages, and to in­doc­tri­nate chil­dren into a new cul­ture — the cul­ture of the legally dom­i­nant Euro-Chris­tian Cana­dian so­ci­ety, led by Canada’s first prime min­is­ter, Sir John A. Macdon­ald,” the com­mis­sion re­ported.

Kath­leen Wynne, the pre­mier of On­tario, said in a state­ment that the call to re­move Macdon­ald’s name “missed the mark,” and she urged the local school boards re­spon­si­ble for the de­ci­sion not to take the step.

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