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UPDATED: Charlottetown council votes to leave statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in place

The bench statue of Sir John A. Macdonald at the corner of Victoria Row and Queen Street in Charlottetown shows the effects of having been sandblasted earlier this week after it was doused with red paint.
The bench statue of Sir John A. Macdonald at the corner of Victoria Row and Queen Street in Charlottetown shows the effects of having been sandblasted earlier this week after it was doused with red paint. - Dave Stewart
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

Charlottetown city council voted unanimously Thursday to leave the bench statue of Sir John A. Macdonald at the corner of Victoria Row and Queen Street.
The statue has been the subject of much controversy these past few weeks following anti-racism demonstrations on P.E.I., as well as reactions to the deaths of two Indigenous people in New Brunswick in altercations with police.
The city has been inundated with calls and emails. Some people want the statue gone altogether.
In an attempt to address the issue, council passed a resolution at a special meeting on Thursday, committing to leaving the statue in place and bringing Indigenous leaders to the table to discuss next steps.
The resolution also reads that the full story needs to be told, the good and the bad.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction,’’ Mayor Philip Brown said. “Is everybody happy? No, but this is about finding that balance.’’
P.E.I.’s Indigenous community said it looks forward to an open dialogue with the city.
“The Mi’kmaq First Nation leadership is very interested in working with the City of Charlottetown on a large plan for education and reconciliation,’’ said a joint statement issued to The Guardian by Lennox Island First Nation’s Chief Darlene Bernard and Abegweit First Nation Chief Junior Gould.
“The chiefs have taken the stance that they will continue to work towards impacting real change on the systemic racism that still impacts our people today.’’
A plaque next to the statue tells the story of Macdonald as Canada’s first prime minister and his key role in Confederation. However, 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.
Amid the controversy, the statue was recently vandalized, doused with red paint that the city had cleaned up this week. Crews sandblasted the paint off on Monday.
The cleanup bill has cost the city $1,200 so far, and Brown said it’s likely to go higher. Brown said the artist who did the statue now resides in Colorado and will have to be brought up to restore it — all on the city’s dime.
According to the city, the artist signed a licensing agreement with the municipality in 2009 in which the artist controls any work or restoration that is required. When asked why an artist from the U.S. was selected to create a statue of a Canadian politician, Brown said it is his understanding the artist was selected through a public tendering process.
However, the cost to clean things up wasn’t on the minds of councillors at the meeting.
Coun. Alanna Jankov said whatever happens the Indigenous community needs to be part of the process and asked the mayor’s office to reach out. Brown said key representatives have already contacted him.
Coun. Kevin Ramsay said new information should be placed next to the statue that, if nothing else, at least directs people to a website that tells the complete story “so we can learn from our mistakes’’.
Brown said the Indigenous community in Canada has issues much bigger than controversy over a statue — citing access to clean water and proper sanitation, as well as job opportunities as examples.
Coun. Greg Rivard pressed Brown to voice his personal opinion on what should happen to the statue.
The mayor said he thinks the statue should stay, that a conversation needs to happen with stakeholders and as much information should be provided to the public as possible.
The statue was placed at the corner of Victoria Row and Queen Street in 2009 at a cost of $75,000, part of a $490,000 birthplace of Canada initiative that was cost-shared by the Charlottetown Area Development Corporation, Tourism Charlottetown, Downtown Charlottetown Inc., the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the city.
Regarding the recent vandalism, there is a city police camera attached to The Guild building across the street from the statue, but police haven’t said whether anyone was caught on tape. Deputy Police Chief Brad MacConnell said it remains an open investigation.
 

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