Last John A. Macdonald statue in major Western Canada city seen painted 'red handed'

The Sir John A. Macdonald statue in Regina, the only one remaining in a major city in Western Canada, has been vandalized again, this time with red paint covering its hands.

Debate over whether statue of Canada's first PM should be destroyed or preserved in museum

A political artist or a vandal — depending on who you ask — coated the hands of Regina's John A. Macdonald statue in red paint. (Rob Kruk/CBC)

The Sir John A. Macdonald statue in Regina has been vandalized again, this time with red paint covering its hands when it was seen Tuesday.

It's the only statue of Canada's first prime minister that remains in a major city in Western Canada, and one of only a handful remaining in the country. 

Earlier this year, the statue was spray painted head to toe. 

"If you think Canada has some serious institutional, some serious deep-down fundamental flaws, then I can see why you would be upset with that statue," said University of Regina Prof. James Daschuk, whose book Clearing the Plains delves into Macdonald's treatment of Indigenous people. 

"We've got Macdonald starving people into submission in the 1880s to facilitate the railway."

Macdonald also played a role in "the imposition of the residential school system," Daschuk said. The system was labelled cultural genocide in 2015 by then Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.

It was quite a shock to see this was the only one in Western Canada.- Regina Métis artist and university professor David Garneau

Macdonald also oversaw the imposition of the pass system, which required First Nations people to get approval from a government agent to leave their reserve.

'If we can't discuss the statues, like something so symbolic and hollow as a statue, there's no way we're ready for — if you want to use the word — reconciliation,' says James Daschuk, author of a book on Canada's first prime minister. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

"A lot of people defend Macdonald because he built the country and that's no doubt true, but he built the dysfunctional country that we live in," Daschuk said.

He said issues raised by the Justice for our Stolen Children protest camp set up across from the Saskatchewan Legislature are an example of Macdonald's legacy.

"That's how institutionalized it is. One-hundred and forty years later, his policies, his actions [that he] oversaw them as the de facto minister of Indian Affairs, still have resonance in our society today."

Métis artist says statue belongs in museum 

"That somebody painted him red-handed — that's a symbolic gesture," said David Garneau, a Regina Métis artist and university professor. 

​He wants it removed, not destroyed. 

"I'm not for iconoclasm. I'm not for the destruction of the objects. Just recontextualize it. Put it in another place, like a museum, where it belongs."

He was surprised by the statue when he moved to Regina from Alberta about two decades ago.

"It was quite a shock to see this was the only one in Western Canada."

Less than two weeks ago, Victoria's city council voted to remove its John A. Macdonald statue in the name of reconciliation.

Garneau called Regina's statue a "deliberate provocation" because it's in the city where Louis Riel died by hanging.

Macdonald was prime minister when Riel was charged with treason in 1885 for leading the Northwest Rebellion. 

The statue was first suggested in 1891, six years after Riel's demise and the year Macdonald died, Garneau said.

It didn't become a reality until many decades later, as part of Canada's centennial. The city commissioned artist Sonia de Grandmaison to do the piece, which was unveiled by John Diefenbaker in November 1967.

"It was inappropriate in 1967, and it's inappropriate now," Garneau said.

City crews removed the red paint the same day. (Rob Kruk/CBC)

Garneau suggested that the statue be replaced, and said he "would love to see a statue of Louis Riel by a local artist." 

"It would be much more interesting and certainly much more of an attraction because it's about this place."

Mayor says statue won't be removed without formal request

Regina Mayor Michael Fougere said the city has not received a formal request to have the statue taken down. 

"It's important to understand all the good and difficult things that happened with Sir John A Macdonald," he said. "Removing doesn't necessarily help in the discussion and trying to change history in this way doesn't necessarily help."

Fougere said he's disappointed by the "vandalism defacing the statue," and a plaque detailing Macdonald's full legacy or an additional monument could be considered. 

Councillor calls on residents to demand action

'I read this as kind of a political statement, and that's no surprise considering the legacy of residential schools,' Ward 3 Coun. Andrew Stevens says of the latest incident involving the Macdonald statue. (Matthew Howard/CBC)

"I read this as kind of a political statement, and that's no surprise considering the legacy of residential schools," said Ward 3 Coun. Andrew Stevens.

Stevens said city council needs to consider historical figures recognized in Regina with colonialism and reconciliation in mind. 

"I think it's been very ad hoc. Collectively, we haven't had this discussion."