Jonathan Hamel wants to put an end to “whitewashing” history.
That's why the Inuk man from Belfast, P.E.I., paid a visit to the well-known Sir John A. Macdonald statue in Charlottetown on Wednesday and attached a sheet of paper featuring what he calls the balance of history pertaining to Canada’s first prime minister.
Hamel was responding to the news of the many recent emails received by the City of Charlottetown asking the municipality to remove the bench statue at the corner of Victoria Row and Queen Street.
The emails, which were the topic of a city council meeting Tuesday, follow anti-racism demonstrations on P.E.I. last week, as well as reactions to the deaths of two Indigenous people in New Brunswick over the past month in altercations with police.
While there is a plaque next to the statue of Macdonald that tells the story about how he was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and his role in Confederation, there is no mention of his role as the architect of residential schools, which separated Indigenous children from their parents and led to abuse and problems that have festered for more than a century.
Hamel says removing the statue is not the answer as it is basically hiding uncomfortable parts of Canada’s history.
“We’re kind of whitewashing it. If we do that, we run the risk of it actually disappearing. So, it didn’t really happen because we have no reminders of this," he said.
“So, the concern is not that this is celebrating a particular individual — it may have been placed there for that — but what I think should be done is let’s tell the full history, let’s tell exactly what happened from all perspectives of people who call Canada home. Macdonald was a racist man. History shows that.’’
"Let’s tell the full history; let’s tell exactly what happened from all perspectives of people who call Canada home. Macdonald was a racist man. History shows that."
There are quotes on Hamel’s sign taken from the House of Commons Hansard indicating the former prime minister had an agenda to do away with Aboriginal people.
“So, people need to understand that this happened right from the beginning,’’ Hamel said.
“The Indian Act was created by him and his government. It’s a racist piece of legislation that still exists today and, under that legislation, we have a colonial government basically saying whether or not you are an Aboriginal person. That’s wrong.’’
Sean Doke, a member of the Lennox Island First Nation and someone who is passionate about protecting and preserving Mi’kmaq rights, agrees that the full story should be told.
Doke said nothing good will be accomplished by taking the statue down.
"If you remove the statue, it takes away from the history. I think the history should be acknowledged, both the good and the bad."
“If they remove the statue, Sir John A. almost gets off a little bit easy in a sense," Doke said.
“I think you shouldn’t take the attention away from him. It should be the full truth … there should be context around it. If you remove the statue, it takes away from the history. I think the history should be acknowledged, both the good and the bad."
Doke says more information is needed, not less. The answer is not brushing Macdonald off. It’s about remembering the full story.
He also thinks it would also be a good idea to put up statues of Indigenous heroes, people who fought for their rights over the years.
“I feel like it’s so colonial when you see Canada’s history – the statues and who they pay tribute to."
Charlottetown council sends John A. Macdonald statue issue to public meeting
Charlottetown city council has sent the controversial issue around the Sir John A. Macdonald bench statue to a public meeting on June 24.
City Hall has been receiving emails with at least some people asking that the statue of the former prime minister be removed from its position at the corner of Victoria Row and Queen Street because of the fact that Macdonald was the architect of the residential school system which separated Indigenous children from their parents.
The emails were discussed during a special meeting of council on Tuesday afternoon.
Coun. Greg Rivard said the options are simple — remove the statue, keep the statue as is or add a plaque that includes more of Macdonald’s history.
As for Charlottetown Mayor Philip Brown’s personal opinion, the statue should stay put with additional history provided.
“Being a teacher for 30 years, I feel you don’t throw out the symbols of history; you educate people so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes in the future," said Brown.
The mayor said he wants to hear from residents in the meantime and is asking people to email their thoughts to him at email@example.com