Regina council votes in favour of removing statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from Victoria Park

Regina's city council voted seven to four Wednesday to remove the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from Victoria Park. The statue will be put into storage for up to a year while a new home is found.

Statue to be put into storage for up to a year while new home is found

Regina councillors voted Wednesday to remove the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in Victoria Park. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

Regina's city council voted seven to four Wednesday to remove the Sir John A. Macdonald statue from Victoria Park.

The statue will now be put into storage while the city does public consultations on a new location.

Councillors Cheryl Stadnichuk, Landon Mohl, Jason Mancinelli, Shanon Zachidniak, Dan LeBlanc, Andrew Stevens and Mayor Sandra Masters voted to move the statue from the park. Councillors Bob Hawkins, Terina Shaw, John Findura and Lori Bresciani were against. 

A recent report by city administrators said the statue overlooks the negative impacts Macdonald's policies and initiatives have had on Indigenous peoples.

"These policies include use of day schools and residential schools as tools of assimilation, relocation of Indigenous peoples away from traditional hunting and fishing areas to make room for European settlement, and an inadequate and often corrupt system for delivering rations to reserves," the report said. 

Emotional testimony

Stadnichuk said council heard emotional testimony and due to the council's makeup — visibly white — they have an obligation to understand the painful history that Indigenous peoples have lived. 

"We are insulated from some of that pain that people feel when they see that statue," Stadnichuk said. "To keep it in the park is a bit of an insult to those that approached us today."

Stadnichuk said while she's heard some people say this is erasing or amending history, she see the move as making amends with history and telling the full story of Sir John A. Macdonald. 

"If we want to talk about erasing history, it was John A. Mcdonald and decades of governments that erased Indigenous history," she said. "We want to talk about cancel culture, it was John A. Macdonald and decades of governments that tried to cancel the entire culture of Indigenous people."

A familar sight to anyone who's been in Victoria Park is this statue of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister. It will now be moved into storage while public consultations take place. (Neil Cochrane/CBC)

Stevens said moving the statue was an easy decision after reading the report and hearing from people. 

"What I find particularly offensive is this notion that these are crimes of the past," Stevens said. "That only works as an argument if you discount the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples who are dispossessed, executed, violently repressed and subject to what we now understand to be a concerted policy of cultural genocide.

"All we're doing right now is moving a statue. We have a long way to go."

Lack of trust

Bresciani said she's concerned that if the statue is placed in storage, it won't be put back up. As well, Bresciani said, she's concerned the general public didn't get to voice their opinion. 

"The engagement that the City of Regina did was absolutely disappointing," Bresciani said. "To our history we've got the good history and the bad history and no one is perfect. But in this situation the general public deserves a say."

A red dress, meant to honour and represent missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, was hung beside the statue of John A. Macdonald in Victoria Park last summer. For months the city has been doing consultations about the statue and its place in Victoria Park. (CBC)

Findura said his fear is that they will isolate the general public to reconciliation and wants everyone to be at the table. 

Stevens said it seemed to him that councillors were fishing for an easier response. He said that's not possible and they should make a call on it today.

Hawkins and Bresciani proposed separate amendments throughout the meeting to leave the statue in its place while further consultation takes place. Both amendments were defeated six to five. 

MPs were against the move

On Sept. 3, 2020 MPs Andrew Scheer, Michael Kram and Warren Steinley held a virtual rally in support of the John A. Macdonald statue in Victoria Park. They were met with protesters.

After hearing of the city's recommendations, Scheer said in a statement that he was disappointed that there wasn't enough consultation and he doesn't support the decision since the country would not exist without Macdonald. 

"We will not be able to build a better future if we keep erasing our past," Scheer said. "No prime minister or historical figure is perfect. We honour our past leaders not for their mistakes, but for the good things that they did, and we learn from their actions both good and bad." 

The city administrators report said removing or relocating the statue doesn't have an impact on the broader understanding of history. It said that while there is a "theme" in public response that it would "erase" history, the statue on its own tells an incomplete story. 

MP Andrew Scheer speaks with protesters after speaking in front of the John A. Macdonald statue in Regina on Sept. 3, 2020. (Olivier Jodouin/Radio-Canada)

Scheer said no decisions should be made by listening to a vocal minority.

 Meanwhile Steinley said in a statement that while many of Macdonald's views and actions were "totally unacceptable," the statue should remain where it is due to his positive contributions to Canadian federacy.

"There is no question that there are shameful chapters in our history that need to be addressed through conversation and education. Yet, if we judge historical figures like Macdonald purely on the mistakes they made or some of the views they held, we wouldn't have any statues left," Steinley said. 

Debate reignited last summer

The vote comes after demonstrations and a petition last summer reignited debate on the statue. 

Kerry Bellegarde-Opoonechaw is a survivor of the Sixties Scoop — when Indigneous children were removed from their homes and placed in non-Indigenous homes — and one of the main people behind the petition to have the statue removed. 

She said her ancestors were starved under Macdonald's policies and that after speaking up against the policies, her grandfather was one of eight warriors hanged at Macdonald's order. 

"He said the executions of the Indians ought to convince the red men that the white man governs," Bellegarde-Opoonechaw said. "To make this point clear, he invited Indigenous young students from the Battleford Industrial School and they had to watch these men hang."

Kerry Bellegarde-Opoonechaw and Star Andreas held a small protest outside of city hall last summer calling for the removal of the John A. Macdonald statue from Victoria Park. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

Bellegarde-Opponechaw said the statue is a constant reminder of what Macdonald did. She said Indigenous people cannot move forward on their own and that she needs the council's help to move Regina forward. 

Kayla MacLellan said Macdonald was responsible for decimating Indigenous people with policies that directly affected her ancestors. She said intergenerational trauma affects a person's DNA and is passed down through generations. 

"With all due respect, I noticed that no one on city council looks like me. So when you walk past the statue of John A. Macdonald, your body doesn't remember your grandparents emaciated, begging for food for their children. But mine does. And I know I'm not alone in that."

MacLellan said Macdonald discriminated against more than Indigenous peoples and had strong stances against immigration, enacting the Chinese Head Tax, dehumanizing other races as animals and fuelling anti-Asian racism that is still seen today.

"John A. Macdonald was a white supremacist," she said. "Of course, this is not someone who should be commemorated in a public park."

Star Andreas (left) and her mother Beatrice Laframboise held a protest at the Sir John A. Macdonald statue in Regina's Victoria Park on March 31 as council debated the removal of the statue. (Matt Duguid/CBC)

Trevor Lakness said he spoke as a resident of Regina and asked for the statue to remain as is. He said he has no trust in the government relocating the statue. He said Macdonald did things that "offended native people," such as residential schools, but that he should also be honoured for creating Canada. 

"You guys are opening up a can of worms. Next, we're going to have to move Tommy Douglas statues in Weyburn and names of his buildings because he said bad things about certain groups," he said. "Nobody in our Canadian history is perfect. John A. Macdonald did create one of the best countries in the world that people flee to."

Lakness said the statue could be accompanied by more plaques that tell different stories, or perhaps other statues of Indigenous chiefs could be put up throughout the park. 

"Maybe I'm on the wrong side of history on this … John A. Macdonald, I am certain that he did do some bad things, as did every other prime minister," Lakness said. "He's still our first prime minister and we need our kids to know our history."

Statue shows incomplete story, report said

The report said the statue also doesn't include information about Macdonald's impact on other non-white ethno-cultural groups. It said the Chinese head tax policy was implemented under Macdonald at a price of $50. It later grew to $500 and was eventually replaced by the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred most Chinese immigration until 1947. 

"These policies had a longstanding impact on the Chinese community in Canada; immigrants, mainly men, spent long years separated from their families, some never seeing their loved ones again. Lost cultural traditions occurred from this separation," the report said. 

It will cost $25,000 to $35,000 to remove the statue, treat the site and engage the public. The city said this money can already be found in existing budgets.

The new location would be somewhere the statue could be accessed by those who wanted to view it, but not a public park or public event space, and would include appropriate context with interpretive panels that speak to Macdonald's full legacy, the report said.