Last Saturday, Defund the Police protesters, in solidarity with Black Lives Matter marched through the rainy streets of Downtown Montreal. When they arrived in Dominion Square, a group unrelated to the demonstration organization (no one knows who) pulled off something some have tried to do before: they took down the statue of Sir John A. MacDonald:
It was really beautiful how it played out. While it was the activists that pulled Sir John from his pedestal (not an easy feat), the statue was decapitated by the laws of physics themselves.
This statue needed to come down. MacDonald may have been Canada’s first Prime Minister, but he also laid the groundwork, both rhetorically and practically, for the institutionalized subjugation of the original inhabitants of this land and the cultural (and also very real) genocide that made it possible.
I could spend the rest of this piece talking about the details, but I won’t. We’re publishing an article about just that this weekend, and there are plenty of sources already available online with that info.
Also, no one will forget John A. MacDonald without the statue, we just won’t be celebrating him in Downtown Montreal — he is on our money after all!
Instead of the moral reasons for why the statue needed to come down, I’m going to put on my political hat, my very cynical political hat, and offer some free advice to our current politicians in power. I’m being practical here.
My real hope is that the statue doesn’t go back up. Ideally, something celebrating either our diversity or (even better) the First Nations replaces it and that there are no negative repercussions for the people who pulled it down (if they are ever identified). If I have to appeal to baser political instincts to make that happen, so be it.
So Far, Not So Good
For her part, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante responded the same day of the incident with a strong condemnation of “acts of vandalism,” followed by saying that she understands and shares “the motivation of citizens who want to live in a more just and inclusive society” but that this is not the way, followed by a statement that the SPVM (Montreal Police) are gonna do what they gonna do:
Now I am, for the most part, a Plante supporter, but this was the wrong way, politically, to respond. Of course she can’t be in favour of vandalism, but she could have said just that without the strong condemnation, and not even mentioned the SPVM (and behind the scenes told them to not bother investigating).
Instead she irritated her own base. The people who love Sir John and care about this above all else aren’t generally those who support Projet Montréal.
Meanwhile, Quebec Premier François Legault said that the statue will be “dusted off, restored and put back” where it was, presumably with the head re-attached. While I get that Legault’s base is right-leaning, last time I checked, Sir John A. MacDonald wasn’t one of their heroes.
While I believe Quebec Nationalism is just as colonial as the Canadian variety, this is one case where I kinda wished Legault’s latent sovereignist aspirations had reared their ugly head. Instead we found out that the CAQ is more interested in right-wing values of “law and order” than in Quebec values.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on the other hand, sounded just like you would expect him to. He kept things in the conceptual: vandalism is not the way (appeal to the right), we need to examine the legacy of former Prime Ministers (appeal to the left) including his own father’s (make it personal). End scene!
Of course Trudeau won’t decide if the statue goes back up or not. And neither will Legault. It’s a municipal decision.
So the ball’s in Plante’s corner, and I strongly encourage her to drop it and then kick it back to the wall. She should only pick this particular ball back up when we are ready to move on to a different statue.
That is unless she wants to truly own the moment and either look for or propose other people to honour. But if she doesn’t, then inaction for the moment, in this case, is fine.
The Statue Will Go
Getting rid of paint is one thing. Fixing then replacing a statue that has already been toppled and decapitated is a whole other ballgame.
It would be akin to being the administration that decided to spend money on commemorating Sir John A. MacDonald in the first place. In 2020.
This statue will be down for good eventually. If it gets replaced and the official process to remove it doesn’t work, you’d better believe protesters will take it down again…they clearly know how to do it.
Don’t let the unsanctioned way the statue came down justify putting it back up. The protestors did you a favour by accomplishing what the bureaucracy could not.
Sure, don’t support what they did officially, but don’t go after them either. Be a politician.
Recognize that your base wants the statue down, those who want it back up probably won’t vote for you anyways, and most people just don’t care enough for it to matter.
Do the smart political thing. It just so happens that it’s also the right thing to do.
Featured Image: Still from CBC News Video