In a polarizing move, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is defending the legacy of the “great” Sir John A. Macdonald the same day Montreal demonstrators toppled and defaced a statue of Canada’s first prime minister.
The conservative politician took to Twitter Saturday to proclaim his government would be happy to have the now-headless statue of Macdonald restored and installed outside the Alberta legislature in Edmonton.
He described the protesters, who were marching in support of defunding the police, as the “the extreme left” who claim Canada is an illegitimate state.
“It’s right to debate his legacy and life. But it is wrong to allow roving bands of thugs to vandalize our history with impunity,” Kenney tweeted.
The words Kenney used to describe protesters is problematic, according to researchers. “Thug,” for example, is often used by politicians to manufacture fear of “the other,” and condone state-sanctioned violence, particularly against Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC).
About 200 demonstrators marched in a peaceful protest Saturday afternoon in Montreal. It was organized by the Coalition for BIPOC Liberation, which is calling for cities across Canada to reduce police budgets by 50 per cent and use the funds to invest in social services, such as mental health treatment and restorative justice programs.
At the end of the rainy event, demonstrators attached ropes to the statue and pulled it off its podium where it crashed to the ground.
“These racist monuments don’t deserve space,” the coalition said in a statement, demanding the removal of all statues, plaques and emblems that symbolize slavery, and anti-Black and Indigenous racism.
“Symbols of hate encourage the mental oppression of marginalized people and serve as reminders to all people of the inequitable imbalance of power and encourage white supremacist attitudes.”
Macdonald created the cruel residential-school system, designed to commit cultural genocide against Indigenous people. Children were taken from their families and forced to live in the institutions, where sexual, physical and emotional abuse was rampant.
Under Macdonald’s leadership, thousands of Indigenous people suffered starvation, Canada’s police and army destroyed communities, and the federal Indian Act, which sets out the terms of the relationship between the Crown and First Nations, became significantly more oppressive.
Montreal’s statue of Macdonald has been repeatedly doused in paint in recent years to protest what it symbolizes.
The City of Victoria stirred up a fierce debate in 2018, when it removed a Macdonald statue from the steps of city hall. The year before, an Ontario teachers’ union called for schools to rename schools named after him, but was rejected by then-premier Kathleen Wynne.
Macdonald helped create a stable federal government, and was a founding father of Confederation, Wynne said at the time.
Other politicians have voiced similar views.
“I’m proud to say that we are the party of Canada’s first prime minister, the father of our federation, and the visionary who made this land possible,” said former Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer in a 2018 keynote speech.
This weekend, Newly elected leader Erin O’Toole tweeted shortly after Kenney that “Canada wouldn’t exist without Sir John A. Macdonald. Canada is a great country and one we should be proud of. We will not build a better future by defacing our past.”