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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Monumental debate

BY Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash Sep 11, 2020

I enjoyed the magnificent footage of protesters toppling the statue of John A. Macdonald. Now, if you have been reading me for a while, you know what I think of this mass murderer, but many people would like Montreal to return the statue to its pedestal.

The main argument brought by those who disagree with the protesters – and with those who are trying to remove these symbols of oppression across the world – puzzles me. Apparently, getting rid of statues would mean that we are erasing history, and that it should remain to remind people about the good and bad things certain characters have done in their life. 

To that argument I respond that firstly, Macdonald’s name will not magically vanish from history books if his likeness is not preserved in bronze in downtown Montreal. Secondly, my general understanding was that statues are meant to honour someone, not to remind people what not to do. 

“Let it be a reminder of our awful past.” No. Reserves, intergenerational trauma, the Indian Act and the high suicide rates in Indigenous communities are painful enough as reminders of Macdonald’s legacy. We do not need another one. What also puzzles me is that there are many Quebecers who want the statue restored, probably without knowing that Macdonald alienated and hated francophones. 

Erin O’Toole, the newly elected leader of the federal Conservative Party, tweeted that without Macdonald there would be no Canada. What’s funny is that it’s exactly what he is being blamed for. Canada was built on institutionalized racism and the goal is acknowledge and break those systems. 

If reconciliation was truly a priority in this country, we would not be advocating so fiercely to continue honouring such violent historical figures. To me, seeing Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante calling the incident “an act of vandalism” is baffling, considering her usual stance on so-called reconciliation. “It’s better to put them in context rather than remove them,” Plante said in a press release. 

To the contrary, I think that toppling the statue was perfectly fine in this contextual setting.

It reminds me of when Queen Victoria’s head was blown off its statue in 1963, also in Montreal, by the Front de libération du Québec. That statue remains in a museum – where it exists in a proper contextual setting. 

I wonder why the City of Montreal does not follow suit. Simply adding a plaque next to his statue that mentions the horrors Macdonald conducted as Canada’s first prime minister would still be an insult. It is healthy for a society to reflect on its past. Values have changed and it should show in the monuments we put up in our cities. Plante missed a good opportunity to stand on the progressive side of history.

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Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash is Cree from Waswanipi, and is the Nation’s newest columnist. She is an activist and writer who also has a regular column in Montreal’s French Metro Newspaper.