British Columbia

Victoria councillors pass motion to remove John A. Macdonald statue

In a 7-1 vote, Victoria city council approved a motion Thursday to have the statute temporarily removed from the front steps of city hall on Saturday.

Councillors did not unanimously support moving the statue into storage

The statue of Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, will be removed from the front steps of Victoria City Hall on Saturday, Aug. 11, in a move the city hopes will improve relations with indigenous people. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Victoria city councillors passed a motion Thursday to remove the statue of John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister, from the front steps of city hall.

In a seven-to-one vote, council endorsed a recommendation from the City Family, a group created by the municipality last year to address issues of reconciliation, to have the statue temporarily removed Saturday.

The vote passed with council sitting as committee and will go to council Thursday evening for ratification. 

Macdonald, who supported the creation of government-funded residential schools, was a "leader of violence against Indigenous peoples," the city said. 

"One of the things we heard very clearly from the Indigenous family members is that coming to city hall to do this work, and walking past John A. Macdonald every time, feels contradictory," said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.

The city has said the statue will return in some form, but no timeline has been set.

Critics say process too rushed

Council, however, did not unanimously support the statue's immediate removal. 

Coun. Geoff Young said he could not support the motion in its current form. Questions remain around how to commemorate history, he said. 

"I don't disagree that this is a subject that is worthy of discussion," he said.

"But I think that it's not just the few members of council and few members of the Aboriginal nations and others who should have the benefit of that discussion. I think it should be a discussion for all citizens of the city." 

But Helps said discussions have been underway since July 2017 and that council tasked the City Family with taking action.

"It has been a year of discussion," she said. "It may feel quick to some, but the conversation will continue." 

'It hit home in a larger way'

Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe became emotional as she talked about Macdonald's impact on her Chinese forbears.

Macdonald's government introduced a Chinese head tax, which required Chinese people to pay $50 to come to Canada — a sum that would eventually grow to an exorbitant $500 under Wilfred Laurier. Macdonald also called the Chinese "a semi-barbaric, inferior race."

"When I see the family members and I hear them tell the committee ... that it's not necessarily about the history of the Indigenous people, but the histories of their own families — it hit home in a larger way than I had expected," Thornton-Joe said, her voice breaking.

"I think this is a first step that the City of Victoria can show that although history cannot be erased, the acknowledgement that some of the history that has affected many people in our community needs to be acknowledged and I think this is the way to acknowledge it."

The statue, shown here in archive footage, was installed in 1982. (CHEK News)

The Sir John A. Macdonald Historical Society, which presented the city with the statue in 1982, said members would like to be consulted about its future location.

"We should not lose sight of our history so that we may learn from the mistakes that may have been made by our past politicians and leaders," the society's chairman, Michael Francis, said in a written statement.

"Sometimes an appropriate location of a statute with a suitable plaque to reflect the strengths and weaknesses on the individual may be  far more instructive for  all of us  than its simple obliteration from the landscape."