Jason Kenney says Alberta would re-erect John A. Macdonald statue toppled in Montreal

Premier Jason Kenney says if Montreal chooses not to reinstall a statue of John A. Macdonald that was toppled by protesters on Saturday, he would have it installed on the grounds of Alberta's Legislature.

Canada's first prime minister also left a destructive legacy of how he treated Indigenous peoples

A statue of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister, was toppled to the ground by demonstrators as a protest march calling for defunding of the police reached its end at Place du Canada on Saturday. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Premier Jason Kenney says if Montreal chooses not to reinstall a statue of John A. Macdonald that was toppled by protesters on Saturday, he would have it installed on the grounds of Alberta's Legislature.

The statue was tipped in downtown Montreal at the end of a march calling for police to be defunded, one of multiple demonstrations held in cities across the country. It wasn't immediately clear if those who tore down the statue were affiliated with protest organizers. 

A banner, hoisted as the statue was pulled down, said that Macdonald has "bloody hands" for disenfranchising the Asian community and for being one of the architects of the residential school system. 

Kenney responded to the protest action with a series of tweets, saying the "extreme left" is "responsible for this kind of violence" and that Macdonald overcame personal trauma to become Canada's first prime minister.

"This vandalism of our history and heroes must stop," he said. 

"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."

David MacDonald, a professor of political science at the University of Guelph, has written about how the residential school system has violated the U.N.'s genocide convention.

He said that while Macdonald founded Canada as it's known today, he also committed horrible crimes against Indigenous people.

While MacDonald and Macdonald share a last name, the professor, who is of Trinidad Indian and Scottish ancestry, said to his knowledge he is not related to the first prime minister.

MacDonald said along with the first prime minister's involvement with the residential school system, he helped organize the systematic starvation of Indigenous people to drive them onto reserves. 

I think it's a shame that the statue was was torn down, but I can fully understand why it was done. And I don't think now that it's down that it should be put back up.- David B. MacDonald, political science professor

"The reactions against his statues are not so much about trying to eliminate memory of Macdonald, but to react against the glorification of the first prime minister and to in some ways even ask for a more balance history," he said.

"It's not really, I guess, cancelling Macdonald as much as asking for a reasoned discussion that puts him within the context of his time and talks about the kinds of crimes that he did."

The father of confederation was born in Scotland. Two years ago, the Scottish government removed references to John A Macdonald from its websites, following what the government said were "the legitimate concerns raised by Canadian Indigenous communities about his legacy."

MacDonald said it's one thing to tolerate or find a way to apply context to a statue in its present environment, but it's another to physically relocate and repair that monument.

"I think it's a shame that the statue was torn down, but I can fully understand why it was done. And I don't think now that it's down that it should be put back up," he said.

"There's a lot of Indigenous peoples and other people of colour, like Black people and other racialized peoples in Alberta, including a lot of my relatives who are from Trinidad. And, you know, I don't think John A. Macdonald is a good symbol for Alberta to put on the legislature … why glorify someone like that now?"

MacDonald also expressed concerns with Kenney's rhetoric, saying it felt derivative of American Republican responses to protests against Confederate monuments. 

Academics have written about the use of the word "thug" as a form of coded, racist language. Montreal's protest was organized by a coalition of Black, Indigenous and people of colour.

"Kenney is the head of government for a province … he needs to be a bit more considerate and try to see both sides of this issue rather than talking about mobs and thugs and things like that. It's not appropriate and it's just going to sow dissent and hatred," MacDonald said. 

When asked for comment, the premier's office referred to a series of tweets Kenney posted in 2018 after the city of Victoria removed a statue of Macdonald.

"We must face up to the darker moments in our history. But we should teach those dark moments in a broader context - in the context of having created this remarkable free and prosperous democracy which would not exist were it not for the leadership and vision of John Macdonald," he wrote at the time.

When asked about the use of the word "thugs," the premier's spokesperson wrote, "Yes, the mob in Montreal today — which was predominantly white — are indeed thugs."

Treaty 6 Grand Chief says statue not welcome

On Sunday, Chief Billy Morin of the Enoch Cree Nation and Grand Chief of the Confederacy of Treaty Six wrote on Facebook that Treaty 6 chiefs do not support bringing the statue from Quebec to Treaty 6 territory.

"I agree history cannot be changed, I agree John A. Macdonald was a foundational part of Canadian history, but given our current work in reconciliation, the focus today should be on that work which was started by the TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission], and this Quebec statue of John A. Macdonald is a distraction to that important work," he said.

Morin said he welcomes the premier to discuss a Treaty Medal monument, which he said has been designed but is underfunded, that is planned to be installed on the legislature grounds near the spot Treaty 6 was signed before Alberta became a province.

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said the city's public art office will coordinate conservation of the statue, and the city will work with its heritage experts to decide on next steps.

"Some historical monuments, here as elsewhere, are at the heart of current emotional debates. I reiterate that it's better to put them in context rather than remove them. I am also in favour of adding monuments that are more representative of the society to which we aspire," she wrote on Twitter.