• Sun. Oct 25th, 2020

Trudeau condemns toppling of Canada’s first PM as ‘vandalism’


Montreal's downtown statue of Sir John A Macdonald was also decapitated in 1992 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Montreal’s downtown statue of Sir John A Macdonald was also decapitated in 1992

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is “deeply disappointed” by the toppling of the statue of Canada’s first prime minister over the weekend.

He called the act “vandalism”.

Activists in Montreal pulled down the statue of Sir John A Macdonald, who was linked to policies that killed many indigenous people in the late 19th Century.

Video captured the moment the statue’s head flew off and bounced on to the pavement nearby.

On Monday, Mr Trudeau said that, while he understands the “impatience and frustration” of Canadians who have dealt with discrimination, acts like pulling down the statue “will not move us ahead as a society”.

He said it should be up to communities and cities to choose how to remember controversial historical figures, not a small group acting unilaterally.

The premier of Quebec and the mayor of Montreal also condemned the action by activists.

Mayor Valérie Plante said it “cannot be accepted nor tolerated”, adding it is better to put historical figures “in context rather than remove them”.

Quebec Premier François Legault wrote on Twitter, “whatever one might think of Sir 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. Vandalism has no place in our democracy and the statue must be restored.”

The statue has been a frequent target for activists over the years, and has often been covered in splashes of paint.

Macdonald was prime minister of Canada between 1860 and 1890 and is remembered for his nation-building policies.

But he also created the residential schools system, which forcibly removed at least 150,000 indigenous children from their homes and sent them to state-funded boarding schools.

Many children were abused and some died, and they were forbidden from speaking their own language or practising their culture. A government report in 2015 called the practice “cultural genocide”.

He was accused of allowing famine and disease to kill many indigenous people and his government forced some First Nation communities to leave their traditional territories, withholding food until they did so.

Mr Trudeau said during a news conference in Montreal that it is fair to “ask questions regarding all our former prime ministers, all our past leaders who did many good things but made mistakes as well”.

“Sir John A Macdonald did very good things but we need to be far more critical of some of his actions,” he added.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption In June activists hung banners from the statue during anti-racism protests

A number of statues of controversial historical leaders around the world have been toppled in recent months during heated public debates over how societies should remember leaders tied to slavery, empire and racism.

In the US, statues of Christopher Columbus as well as Confederate leaders were removed, while in the UK monuments to prominent slave traders have been taken down.

Belgian protesters also defaced statues of King Leopold II due to the deadly legacy of his personal colony in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.