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B.C.’s capital city cutting all ties to controversial John A. Macdonald statue

Victoria returning statue, removed from display in 2018, to the John A. Macdonald Historical Society
The Sir John A. Macdonald statue during its removed from Victoria’s City Hall in 2018. The city will return the statue to a historical society focused on the country’s first prime minister. (Black Press Media file photo)

B.C.’s capital has chosen to end its relationship with a statue of John A. Macdonald that was removed from the public arena years ago.

Council on Thursday unanimously approved returning the statue to the John A. Macdonald Historical Society after the group made the request this summer.

The statue of the one-time Victoria MP was removed from its place outside city hall in 2018 in an act of reconciliation as it was placed there in the 1980s without any consultation. Mayor Lisa Helps said the society signalled that it wanted to honour the process of reconciliation.

“The country has entered a new era of reckoning with its history. Canadians are gaining a deeper understanding of our history, including wider spread knowledge of the attempted cultural genocide of Indigenous Peoples through the residential school system,” a motion on the removal stated.

The motion noted Macdonald was one of the figures responsible for the residential school system. His government introduced the residential school system in 1883 and he’s known for defending it in order to “take the Indian out of the child.” Macdonald also made countless abhorrent statements about other racial and ethnic groups, and implemented a number of discriminatory policies against them.

Several councillors spoke about the city and society learning a more fulsome history of the country’s first prime minister.

Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe quoted several racist, disparaging and factually incorrect comments MacDonald made about people of Chinese descent in the House of Commons.

“I think blindly honouring the individual is not an appropriate way to commemorate that period of Canada’s past,” Coun. Ben Isitt said.

The city, the historical society and local First Nations held conversations on the issue before drafting recommendations on its return. The statue and its plinth will be returned to the society’s storage facility in Ladner with funds from the city’s contingency budget.

According to the passed motion, the society will not permit the sculpture to be displayed on Vancouver Island without the expressed approval of the local First Nation or Nations on whose territory the statue would stand. The motion noted the society’s intention is to safeguard the statue and not seek a place of public display.

If the society allows the public display of the statue in the future, it will use its best efforts to include the fullest possible educational and contextual information concerning Macdonald, his time, his policies and their consequences, the motion stated.

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