Statues and monuments are often erected to commemorate people or events that are meant to inspire future generations. They tell a story about a nation’s past and present values and beliefs. As Canada starts to focus on truth and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and continues to identify as a culturally diverse nation, many of the controversial decisions of governments in the past are resurfacing in the eyes of the public (Farber). In August 2018, Victoria became the first city to remove a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from their City Hall due to his contentious legacy (Chase). Supporters of the movement believe that Macdonald’s prejudiced and intolerant movements should not be positively recognized, whereas those who disagreed with the removal of Macdonald’s statue argue that his accomplishments as Canada’s first Prime Minister outweighed his negative decisions. Although it’s undeniable that Sir John A. Macdonald laid the foundation for Canada as it is today, he did so by abusing Indigenous communities and Chinese immigrants. Due to his racist and bigoted views that do not correlate to the common values of the past or present, Macdonald’s name and likeness should be removed from the public sphere.
John A. Macdonald’s central role in establishing genocidal laws against Indigenous and Chinese peoples have significantly impacted generations of people within Canada. Macdonald believed that “the cross of [our races], like the cross of the dog and the fox, is not successful; it cannot be, and never will be” (Wherry). One of the most well-known racist programs initiated by Macdonald is residential schools. These schools took Indigenous children from their parents and forbade them from speaking their native languages or practicing the religions they grew up with. In 1883, Macdonald justified the idea in the House of Commons, stating that “Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will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,” (Brown). Over 6,000 children died in these schools, according to the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Less well known, are the policies that Macdonald put in place that excluded Chinese from entering Canada and ensured those who were already in Canada were denied all basic rights granted to other Canadians. Under his watch, Chinese people were stripped of the right to vote. Additionally, Macdonald implemented a program that charged Chinese immigrants a $50 fee ($1445 in today’s currency) to enter Canada. This caused decades of untold financial hardship for tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants and their families. Therefore, due to the lasting harmful impact of Macdonald’s central role in mistreating Indigenous and Chinese peoples, he should not be praised or represented in the public sphere.
On the contrary, experts in support of keeping Macdonald in the public sphere argue that his racist policies were in line with the general values of the time and that it is incorrect to hold him to the social norms of the present. However, John A. Macdonald held some of the most extreme views of his era. Even members of his own government did not share his extreme views. He was the only politician in parliamentary debates to refer to Canada as ‘Aryan’ and to “justify legalized racism on the basis not of alleged cultural practices but on the grounds that ‘Chinese’ and ‘Aryans’ were separate species” (Stanley). Furthermore, he was the only member to argue that Asians and Europeans were separate species. In contrast, the second prime minister of Canada, Alexander Mackenzie, had earlier refused discriminatory proposals on the grounds that they involved invidious distinctions that were “dangerous and contrary to the law of nations and the policy which controlled Canada,”. Moreover, Macdonald’s secretary of state and the Quebec lieutenant, Joseph-Adolphe Chapleau, was also against Macdonald’s views and “went to some lengths to show that they did not accept prevailing anti-Chinese views”. Excusing John A. Macdonald’s discriminatory views as being in line with the norms of the time is misguided; they had the same impact on those involved in the past as those targeted today. There needs to be a zero-tolerance policy against discrimination that includes removing symbols of racism from the general public.
In 2018, Victoria became the first city to remove a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from their city hall due to his involvement in inhumane laws and actions against Indigenous and Chinese peoples (Brown). When one considers Macdonald’s controversial legacy and the lasting impact that his racist views and actions have on many minority groups in Canada, it becomes clear that he should be removed from the public eye. Removing John A. Macdonald’s statues and monuments would allow for Canada to tell a more complete story about his history that both celebrates his contributions as the country’s first Prime Minister while acknowledging the harm he caused. We cannot erase Canadian history, but we must ensure that it is portrayed in the first place, in a way that is true, accurate and leaves no detail behind.
Ballingall, Alex. “Sir John A. Macdonald: Architect of Genocide or Canada’s Founding Father?” Thestar.com, 24 Aug. 2017, www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/08/24/john-a-macdonald-schools-should-be-renamed-elementary-teachers-union.html.
Brown, Scott. “Victoria Removing Sir John A. Macdonald Statue from City Hall.” Vancouver Sun, 9 Aug. 2018, vancouversun.com/news/local-news/victoria-removing-john-a-macdonald-statue-from-city-hall.
Farber, Bernie M., et al. “Should Statues of Sir John A. Macdonald Be Removed? Yes.” Thestar.com, 21 Aug. 2018, www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/thebigdebate/2018/08/21/should-statues-of-sir-john-a-macdonald-be-removed-yes.html.
Stanley, Timothy. “John A. Macdonald, ‘the Chinese’ and Racist State Formation in Canada.” Journal of Critical Race Inquiry, vol. 3, no. 1, 2017, doi:10.24908/jcri.v3i1.5974.
“Comment: John A. Macdonald Statue’s Removal Is Overdue.” Times Colonist, 13 Oct. 2017, www.timescolonist.com/opinion/op-ed/comment-john-a-macdonald-statue-s-removal-is-overdue-1.23064384.
National Post. “MacDonald, Dan & Farber: John A. Macdonald Was a near Genocidal Extremist Even for His Time.” National Post, 11 Jan. 2015, nationalpost.com/opinion/macdonald-dan-farber-john-a-macdonald-was-a-near-genocidal-extremist-even-for-his-time.