Kingston city council held a special council meeting Wednesday evening evening to discuss concerns amid a growing backlash surrounding the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald at Kingston’s city park.
The backlash comes as the Indigeonous community continues to demand action after the discovery of 215 Indigeonous children found at Kamloops residential school.
The heated debate extended for over 4 hours, with the council considering three options.
The first option involved keeping the statue in place and working to develop plaques that demonstrate a more rounded history outlining MacDonald’s legacy.
The second option to be considered was the removal of the Statue of Sir. John A. Macdonald. The second option would include the “consideration of new interpretive intentions for its previous location at City Park and a timeline for the completion of this consultation, to be provided to Council for consideration at the August 10, 2021 Council meeting.”
The third option involved removing the statue and moving it to the Cataraqui Cemetery, where the former prime minister is currently buried. “city staff initiate a process to relocate the statue of Sir John. A. Macdonald in City Park to Cataraqui Cemetery, a National Historic Site where Sir John A. Macdonald is buried,” the motion reads.
Before a final decision was made, the council heard from several delegates who were for and against the removal of Sir John A. Macdonald statue. Both sides spoke passionately about the issue.
The topic of Macdonald proved to be particularly tense in Kingston, who grew up in Kingston and practised law prior to becoming a Father of Confederation, while also being responsible for the rapid expansion of Canada’s residential school system.
“It seems arbitrary and unjust to hold Sir. John A. Macdonald responsible for this tragedy…It is also unjust to focus on the negative parts of Sir. John A. MacDonald,” one delegate told the council.
Delegates also included scholars who have a research focus in Indigeonous studies. The scholar noted that there is a lack of diversity on Kingston City Council and encouraged the council to think about marginalized voices.
“A removal of the glorification of Sir. John A. Demonstrates a respect for the dignity of Indigeonous people,” said Natasha Stirrett to city council. “This is not an even playing field, you know that, I know that,” she added.
While the council was ongoing, community members were gathered in front of the statue. Some of the members felt “disgusted” by some of the delegates.
“We’re all sitting around listening and we’re disgusted at the classism and the racism that’s going on at city council,” said Dionne Nolan who is an Indigenous community member gathered around the Sir. John A. Macdonald statue with others.
As they grappled with the legacy with Sir John. A Macdonald, council members feared that if the statue were to be moved to storage, it would probably stay there and not be brought back. At the same time, they resonated with the harm that the statue has caused to Indigenous community of Kingston.
Mayor Bryan Paterson urged council to move the statue to Cataraqui Cemetery as it would show that Kingston is “Firmly committed to displaying Sir. John A. Macdonald in a different location in a different context.”
Ultimately, the city council voted to remove the statue of Sir John Macdonald from its current location and relocate it to the former prime minister’s resting place at Cataraqui Cemetery.
The third motion is contingent on a facilitated consultation with the Indigenous community. Until this conversation takes place, the motion stipulates that the statue will be moved into storage. The city would be responsible for the care of the statue and will spend $80,000 from its capital budget to facilitate the move.