Red paint used to deface statue of Winston Churchill outside Edmonton city hall

The former British prime minister is lionized by Canadian politicians as one of the great statesmen of the 20th century. But his leadershipoften overshadows well-documented positions on white supremacy and British imperialism. 

Statue found covered in red paint Thursday morning

Red paint was doused on a statue of Winston Churchill, the latest incident in what Mayor Don Iveson called an emotional debate about the public honours bestowed on controversial historical figures. (Peter Evans/CBC)

A statue of Winston Churchill near Edmonton's city hall was found doused in red paint Thursday morning. 

The statue is located in the eponymous Churchill Square, a large tree-lined pedestrian square facing city hall. 

"I don't know the intent behind the vandalism, but I know historical monuments and sculptures, here and elsewhere, are at the heart of an emotional debate regarding what legacies and stories we venerate as a society," Mayor Don Iveson said in a statement.

"I believe there are more productive ways to move society along towards a more inclusive and uplifting future [than] vandalizing city property." 

The graffiti incident, which was reported to Edmonton police at about 10:45 a.m. Thursday, is under investigation, police said.

Workers contracted by the Edmonton Arts Council had removed the paint by Thursday afternoon. 

Controversial figures

The former British prime minister is routinely lionized by Canadian politicians as one of the great statesmen of the 20th century. But his leadership through the Second World War often overshadows his well-documented positions on white supremacy and British imperialism. 

In 1937, he was quoted telling the Palestine Royal Commission: "I do not admit, for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the Black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place." 

Churchill also oversaw the response to the 1943 Bengali famine in British-controlled India, which killed more than two million people. Churchill opposed delivering food aid saying it would not be enough due to Indians "breeding like rabbits," recalled the Secretary of State for India Leopold Amery. 

The defacement of Edmonton's Churchill statue is the latest in a series of incidents directed at the public depictions of historical figures, including Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister, and other architects of Canada's residential school system. 

Edmonton city council voted to remove the Grandin name from an LRT station on June 7, after the remains of 215 children were discovered at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School,

In the 1800s, St. Albert Bishop Vital Grandin lobbied the government to fund the government-sanctioned schools designed to forcibly assimilate Indigenous children as part of a cultural genocide. 

The red paint covering the Churchill statue recalls a similar scene earlier this month in Toronto where an Egerton Ryerson statue was toppled on the university campus bearing his name. 

Vandalism denounced

Najib Jutt, a political strategist from Edmonton who has previously called for the statue to be removed, said in a tweet that it should be placed in a museum where Churchill's "views and atrocities" could be properly chronicled. 

"Maybe let's not celebrate, commemorate and otherwise memorialize warmongers and genocidal maniacs," he wrote.

The Winston Churchill statue is located in the downtown Edmonton square named after the British wartime prime minister. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Coun. Michael Walters compared the statue's defacement to the spray painting of a swastika on an Edmonton mosque reported earlier this week

"The vandalism of the statue of Winston Churchill is disturbing and disgusting to me. The act of vandalism we saw this week upon a mosque in Edmonton is disturbing and disgusting," he said in a statement. 

"Disparaging public and private property is never a solution."

The public square in downtown Edmonton was named after Churchill following his death in 1965. The statue, which is listed among the city's collection of public art, was erected in 1989. The LRT station beneath the square is also named after him. 

On Twitter, Premier Jason Kenney said people should continue to debate Churchill's "complex legacy and record."

"No member of the greatest generation can meet the standards of contemporary wokeness. But we should still honour those who secured our peace and freedom," he wrote.

In an interview, Jutt said Kenney's suggestion that Churchill's legacy is only tarnished by contemporary standards dismisses those who opposed British imperialism and white supremacy during his time. 

With files from Anusha Kav and Julia Lipscombe