Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today condemned vandalism by activists that brought down a statue of the country’s first prime minister in Montreal over the weekend.
Speaking to reporters at an announcement about COVID-19 vaccines, Trudeau said that while some of the country’s past leaders have done questionable things, acts of destruction are not the best way to advance the fight for equality.
“We are a country of laws and we are a country that needs to respect those laws, even as we seek to improve and change them, and those kind of acts of vandalism are not advancing the path towards greater justice and equality in this country,” Trudeau said.
“Actions such as that have no place in a society that abides by the rule of law,” he added in French.
The statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in Montreal — like those some in other cities — was targeted by activists because of his association with the Indian residential school system, which forcibly removed Indigenous children from the “savages” in their home communities for education in largely church-run facilities where abuse was rampant.
Macdonald also opposed Chinese immigration on racist grounds, fearing it would dilute the British character of Canada.
The activists say the glorification of Macdonald is out of step with the modern push for racial justice.
The statue was toppled and decapitated during a protest calling on political leaders to de-fund police services — part of a wave of protests across the continent against excessive violence perpetrated by law enforcement against Black and Indigenous people.
Macdonald, who served as prime minister for some 19 years, is remembered mostly for his key role in bringing together a collection of disparate British colonies to create a new entity that is now one of the most prosperous and free countries on earth.
He spearheaded the construction of the transcontinental railway that united the fledgling country, encouraged immigration to develop Western Canada and backed tariff-based industrial policies that resulted in a robust domestic manufacturing sector.
“He was our first prime minister and I think it’s important to recognize the role he played in the creation of this country compared to world we live in now,” Trudeau said in French.
“We must acknowledge where there were comments, perspectives, certain actions that were unacceptable — That’s part of recognizing our history as a country.”
A number of other political leaders have condemned the destruction of the Macdonald monument, saying these vandals are intent on erasing Canada’s history and applying 21st century values to a leader who served more than a 150 years ago.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney asked that the damaged statue be sent to his province so it could be repaired and redeployed to acknowledge Macdonald’s contributions as the country’s first leader and a Father of Confederation.
“This vandalism of our history and heroes must stop,” Kenney said in a tweet.
“As his biographer Richard Gwyn wrote, ‘No Macdonald, no Canada.’ Both Macdonald and the country he created were flawed but still great.”
Quebec Premier François Legault also condemned the destruction of the Macdonald statue and promised to restore it to its rightful place at the Place du Canada in Montreal’s downtown core.
“Whatever one might think of John A. Macdonald, destroying a monument in this way is unacceptable. We must fight racism, but destroying parts of our history is not the solution,” he said.