Montreal committee says toppled statue of John A. Macdonald should not be put back

MONTREAL — A downtown Montreal statue of Canada's first prime minister that was toppled by protesters in 2020 should not be put back, a city-mandated committee said in a report released Monday.

Montreal should distance itself from the policies of assimilation and genocide against Indigenous Peoples that were championed by Sir John A. Macdonald, the committee of experts, public servants and academics recommended.

"Considering the assimilative and genocidal policies Macdonald implemented against Indigenous Peoples, and the discriminatory acts he perpetrated against several other groups of people, the consequences of which are still painful and palpable for many communities, the committee believes … it is necessary to distance ourselves from this legacy," the committee wrote.

Protesters toppled, beheaded and defaced the statue at the end of an August 2020 demonstration calling on cities to defund police departments, and the base on which the statue stood has been empty since. The statue --- first installed in Place du Canada park in 1895 — has been sitting in a municipal warehouse while the city prepares a new framework for memorials of historical figures.

Macdonald was an architect of Canada's residential school system. Some of his other policies included intentionally starving women and children to clear the path for settlement in the West. The debate in Canada over what to do with public memorials of Macdonald was rekindled in May 2021, after the discovery of the remains of 215 children in unmarked graves on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

The committee — which included Sen. Michèle Audette and Dinu Bumbaru, policy director at Heritage Montreal — suggested that the statue be replaced with an artistic reinterpretation that rejects the colonial vision of Canada put forward by the country's first prime minister.

"The committee does not rule out the use of the bronze statue or its image in a renewed interpretation. If this project does not involve the reuse of the bronze statue, what will happen to it remains to be determined."

On Dec. 7, the committee will hold a public meeting to present its findings and recommendations.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2022.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Marisela Amador, The Canadian Press