If you walk through Victoria Park in downtown Regina, you will find a statute of Sir John A. Macdonald. For some, the statue is a reminder of colonialism and the pain and suffering caused to Indigenous people as a result of policies enacted by our government. People cite Macdonald’s involvement in displacing Indigenous people from the land, the creation of residential schools and bans on Indigenous religious ceremonies (to name a few).
For others, the statue serves as a reminder of the first prime minster of Canada and the critical role he played in building this great nation. They say that Macdonald has to be understood and judged in the context of his time. While many of his policies would not be endorsed in today’s day and age, people say that Macdonald is being unfairly judged with the benefit of hindsight and with an expectation of perfection.
No matter whether you support one view or the other, or like many can see both sides of the issue, we as a community do not benefit from a small number of people who decide to bypass the above discussion and proper processes (including lobbying city council, court proceedings or other political avenues for change) and instead decide to destroy or deface public property to achieve their goal. Canadians often disagree on things. In this Country we are fortunate to have the freedom to discuss difficult issues in public without fear of reprisal from the state. It is when people attempt to bypass our local institutions and take things into their own hands, that we all lose the benefit of the rule of law and our right to speak freely and openly.
In recent years the statue of Macdonald has been defaced on numerous occasions. Most recently and disappointingly, someone ripped its name plate off. If ripping the nameplate from a statue constitutes an open and free dialogue on a difficult subject, that is news to me. We are dangerously close to falling into a situation where anarchists have free reign to topple statues they do not like, or burn buildings under the guise of social justice. This has happened in Montreal with that city’s statue of Macdonald being pulled down, and with the riots, looting and destruction of property that has become common place south of the border.
Thankfully, the vast majority of those who oppose this statue have done so without resorting to violence, intimidation or the destruction of property. Most recently, two women from Regina have gathered the support of more than 2,600 signatures in the form of a petition calling for the removal of the statue from Victoria Park. These women have met with the mayor to voice their concern. They have been key in prompting the city to conduct a legacy review of the statue which has been drawing engagement from the community. Importantly, these women have voiced their opposition to the statue being damaged, torn down or defaced. These women should be commended for the thoughtful and reasonable manner in which they have voiced their opposition to the statue and how they have conducted themselves in their efforts to effect change.
The purpose of statues like this should be for education. It should be to educate the public of our history: both the good and the bad. No one learns anything when statues are toppled or defaced at the hands of a few people without regard to our institutions and processes that are in place for everyone’s benefit. What we need is more open dialogue which appears to be the avenue recently taken. This approach has spurred the city’s legacy review and might result in some real change.
Matthew J. Schmeling
McDougall Gauley Defence Group
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