Removing John A. Macdonald statue 'tip of the iceberg' for reconciliation: Hamilton organizer

An organizer of the Hamilton Indigenous Unity rally that was followed by the John A. Macdonald statue in Gore Park being pulled down said it is just the "tip of the iceberg" toward Indigenous reconciliation.

Rally leaders to meet Tuesday to discuss next steps following weekend event

After the Sir John A Macdonald statute in Hamilton's Gore Park fell on Saturday, people defaced it with spray paint and a saw. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.

An organizer of the Hamilton Indigenous Unity rally that was followed by the John A. Macdonald statue in Gore Park being pulled down Saturday said it's just the "tip of the iceberg" toward Indigenous reconciliation.

Hundreds of people attended a rally at city hall on the weekend to protest an earlier city council decision to not remove the statue. Attendees marched through downtown ending at the site of the statue. Following its removal by a handful of people, it was spit on, spray-painted and its nose was sawed off.

The events occurred just over a month after council's decision not to remove the statue, despite more than 1,000 public correspondences in favour of its removal and suggestions from some councillors to move it while the city conducts a review of landmarks and monuments. (The review also includes parks and street names.)

Macdonald is considered an architect of Canada's residential school system, which snatched Indigenous children from their families and tried to assimilate them. The last school closed in the mid-1990s and in past months, hundreds of unmarked graves have been detected at the sites of former residential schools in Canada.

Jordan Carrier, an organizer of Saturday's rally, said in an interview on Monday that calls to remove the statue in Hamilton have been around for years.

"It's a really small thing [the city] could've done to support Indigenous people to show we are heard ... and they could not do it."

Jordan Carrier, a 38-year-old Plains Cree woman and Hamilton resident, was one of the organizers of the Hamilton Indigenous Unity rally on Saturday, Aug. 14. (Eva Salinas/CBC)

The 38-year-old Plains Cree woman and Hamilton resident said she felt "immense gratitude" toward the people who took down the statue. Rally organizers are meeting Tuesday to think about what's next, she said.

As for the city, "I really have so little faith in what they can do to support us," she added.

Carrier said city council could try to acknowledge keeping the statue standing was the wrong choice, but also said it may not be well received by the Indigenous community right now.

The city declined a request to interview Mayor Fred Eisenberger on Monday, but in an emailed statement he said the statue being taken down created division, not unity.

"We understand the need for freedom of speech against topics that are meaningful and important. However, truth and reconciliation is not about destruction, vengeance or retribution. It is about building positive relationship through respectful dialogue and collaboration to effect informed action," read the statement.

"Nothing justifies vandalizing and damaging public property."

After marching from city hall to Gore Park in Hamilton, people tied a rope around the Sir John A Macdonald statue before pulling it down on Saturday. Local police said they are trying to identify four suspects. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

The city said on the weekend it would move the toppled statute and make the park safe for people to use. It also said its cultural staff would review damage to the statue and the site.

Hamilton police declined an interview request on Monday but said it is trying to identify four suspects and released images and descriptions of the four in question. The service also said it was speaking to witnesses and reviewing video evidence. There were no reported injuries.

Few charges resulting from other recent statue cases

John A. Macdonald statues have been taken down or defaced in cities across Canada, but in some cases, like the statue takedown in Montreal, it appears police didn't press any charges. 

But at least one case made its way through the courts.

A Charlottetown man received a conditional discharge (which doesn't lead to a criminal record) for temporarily tipping over a statue of Macdonald sitting on a bench in September 2020. He was also put on probation for a year, had to perform 20 hours of community service work, had to write an apology letter and pay $160 for damage to the statue.

The local city council eventually removed the statue in June, after Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in B.C. said preliminary findings from a survey of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School by ground-penetrating radar, combined with previous knowledge and oral history, indicated 215 children had been buried at the site.

Charlottetown coun. Greg Rivard said it has been months since he has heard anyone complain about city council removing a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in June. (Tony Davis/CBC)

Things haven't been problematic since the statue's removal, according to one Charlottetown city councillor.

"Nothing has changed, other than the fact there is no longer vandalism and hate and things of that nature. No one has emailed me, no one has contacted me since I'd say maybe the following week or two after the statue was taken down," Greg Rivard told CBC Hamilton.

"I'm sure there's lot of people who believe the statue never should've been taken down, but again ... we're talking about a statue, y'know? It doesn't erase history, it doesn't change what Sir John A. represents, it doesn't change what he did over the course of history. It's simply a statue."

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.