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The toppled statue of John A. Macdonald should not be put back up, Montreal committee advises

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More than two years after protesters toppled it from its perch, a statue of John A. Macdonald is unlikely to be restored after a Montreal city committee advised against it.

The statue was toppled in August 2020 by a small group of protesters at the end of a demonstration calling for the defunding of the Montreal police, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

The force of the fall severed the statue’s head from its body.

An ad hoc committee was asked to make recommendations on what to do next with the bronze statue. On Monday, he published his preliminary assessment.

“Considering the assimilative and genocidal policies that he implemented on indigenous peoples and the discriminatory acts that he perpetrated against various groups of people, in the spirit of the reconciliation process, it is necessary to distance ourselves from this legacy of John A. Macdonald,” the committee noted. said.

The committee suggested finding another way to recognize the leader’s legacy, including through artistic means.

A city worker begins to clean the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald after it was vandalized in Montreal, Friday, Aug. 17, 2018. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The statue, erected in 1895, was meant to celebrate Canada’s first prime minister and his role in the Confederation, but in recent decades it became a focus of anger.

In 1992, he was beheaded on the anniversary of the hanging of Louis Riel, the Métis leader and founder of Manitoba, whom Macdonald had executed for treason.

By 2020, the statue had become a frequent target of vandalism and was repeatedly splattered with red paint as its treatment and policies towards indigenous peoples, particularly the establishment of the residential school system, came under increased scrutiny.

‘History is not fixed’

Ronald Rudin, a professor emeritus in the history department at Concordia University, had called for the statue not to be replaced.

Rudin’s work often addresses how to commemorate the past, especially painful pasts.

In an interview Monday, Rudin said he’s concerned the city would stop at erecting a simple plaque or creating a virtual mobile app.

Instead, Rudin suggested rotating artwork by artists from communities that have been damaged by Macdonald’s legacy, or using projections on the site where the statue once stood.

“We have to recognize that history is not fixed,” Rudin said. “There may be people we celebrate today who if we build permanent structures, a certain number of years from now we won’t feel the same way about them.”

As an example of a post-statue success story, Rudin cited the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square, where an empty statue podium houses a rotating cast of sculptures and has become a popular tourist attraction.

But he says the place where the statue of John A. Macdonald stood at Place du Canada should be more political.

“I would propose that we make this kind of space for those people who are affected by Macdonald’s policies, really lead the way in saying and suggesting how we might use a space like this to respond to his legacy.”

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