Canadians petition for removal of racist, colonial era monuments


Ottawa (AFP)

Canadians have joined a global push to strip public spaces of racist and colonial symbols, calling this week for a statue of Canada's first prime minister to be taken down and the renaming of a Toronto street.

Thousands signed petitions to remove John A. MacDonald's bronze likeness from Place du Canada Park in Montreal, and to rename Dundas Street in Toronto.

This comes after moves to remove statues honoring Confederate generals and slave owners in the United States in response to anti-racism protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd.

"It is time for Canadians too to revise the meanings of our own public monuments, and their effect on the legacy we wish to correct," one of the petitions states.

MacDonald's statue, installed in 1895 in the heart of Montreal, has been repeatedly vandalized over the years.

His government has been accused of seeking to assimilate indigenous peoples through forcible enrollment in residential schools, for example, that led to a loss of language and culture -- described in a 2015 reconciliation commission report as "cultural genocide."

Centuries later, many Canadian aboriginals continue to suffer extreme poverty and violence.

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said Wednesday there were no plans to remove the statue.

But she also welcomed the opportunity for "a dialogue between what was the past and what was right then or what was acceptable then, where at one point we're like, as a society, 'enough.'"

In 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau renamed the Langevin building that houses his Ottawa office The Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council, citing Sir Hector-Louis Langevin's involvement in the residential schools policy.

The following year, a statue of MacDonald was removed from the grounds of the British Columbia legislature in Victoria.

In Toronto, mayor John Tory ordered a working group to study the issue of renaming Dundas Street, taking into account "very important and relevant historical questions."

He noted, however, that renaming a major street creates "practical challenges."

Henry Dundas, an 18th century politician who opposed ending slavery, had effectively delayed its abolition in the British Empire.