opinionWhy ought to Sir John A. take all of the blame for Canada’s injustices to Indigenous peoples?John IbbitsonJanuary 24, 2023
Within the newest indignity visited upon the reminiscence of Canada’s first prime minister, Ottawa’s Nationwide Capital Fee has introduced plans to substitute an Indigenous title for what’s now the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway.
Why does everybody decide on Sir John A. and never Sir Wilfrid?
Wilfrid Laurier, one among Canada’s most beloved prime ministers, expanded the residential-school system and suppressed a 1907 report that exposed the faculties had been merciless and unsafe. His inside minister, Clifford Sifton, dispossessed First Nations of their lands with a view to promote settlement within the Prairies. His governments additionally blocked Black and Chinese language immigrants from coming into Canada.
However though Ryerson College has been renamed Toronto Metropolitan College on the grounds that Egerton Ryerson helped set up the residential-school system, Wilfrid Laurier College has no plans to vary its title. Laurier streets throughout the nation stay untouched. Renaming Ottawa’s Chateau Laurier lodge is unthinkable.
Macdonald’s likeness has been banished from the 10-dollar invoice, changed by Viola Desmond. Laurier stays on the 5.
Macdonald statues have been toppled or eliminated in Charlottetown, Montreal, Kingston, Hamilton, Regina, Victoria and elsewhere. However I can discover no file of a Laurier statue being carted off to storage.
Tearing Indigenous youngsters from their dad and mom and forcing them to attend colleges removed from their communities, the place they had been subjected to illness, abuse and efforts at assimilation, and the place some died, was an act of cultural genocide by our lights. However by the lights of each Macdonald and of Laurier – and, for that matter, of Robert Borden, Mackenzie King, R.B. Bennett, Louis St. Laurent, John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson – it was sound coverage. And newspapers throughout the land, together with this one, agreed.
King’s governments deserve specific scrutiny. Not solely did his administration keep the residential-schools system, the King authorities in 1923 enacted laws banning Chinese language immigration. The act was rescinded in 1947 however King continued to take care of that “large-scale immigration from the Orient would change the basic composition of the Canadian inhabitants.” He additionally turned away Jews fleeing Europe on the St. Louis; an estimated 254 of its passengers later died by the hands of the Nazis. And his authorities dispossessed greater than 21,000 Japanese Canadians in the course of the Second World Warfare.
Pierre Trudeau’s authorities started phasing out residential colleges. However that very same authorities produced a white paper underneath Indian Affairs minister (and future prime minister) Jean Chrétien that might have eradicated particular standing for First Nations, transformed reserves into non-public property and wound down treaty rights. The federal government retreated within the face of First Nations outrage.
Injustice towards Indigenous peoples lengthy predated Confederation and continues to at the present time. The file of racism towards non-European immigrants is prolonged and sordid. What makes Macdonald extra culpable than the remaining?
The reply may very well be that, as the primary prime minister and a Father of Confederation, Macdonald personifies Canada. In knocking down his statue, some persons are not merely protesting the legacy of residential colleges – they’re knocking down the image of an oppressive, colonizing state.
In that sense, to drag down a Macdonald statue is to drag down the statue of each prime minister and each chief who contributed to oppression of Indigenous peoples. And given what they’ve been put by way of, who may blame them?
However Macdonald and a handful of others additionally gave us Canada. They crafted a dominion distinctive in its steadiness of powers between federal and provincial, English and French. Immigrants from Britain and Japanese Europe got here right here. Italians and Portuguese and Chinese language and South Asians and Filipinos got here right here. Muslims and Jews got here right here. Refugees got here right here, the newest from Afghanistan and Ukraine.
Canada is much from excellent, however it’s arguably the least imperfect nation on Earth, if the embrace of variety is your measure.
There are many John A. Macdonald issues in Ottawa. Changing one among them with an Indigenous title gained’t harm anybody. Reconciliation will take time and be arduous, however we should attain for it.
Let’s watch out, although. Sir John A. is a part of who we’re, good and dangerous. Let’s speak to one another about that. Speaking is all the time higher than tearing down.