The head of a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister, is shown torn down following a demonstration in Montreal on Aug. 29. A new poll suggests where Canadians stand on removing statues of politicians who harboured racist views or who pushed racist policies. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

New poll suggests half of Canadians against removing statues of former leaders

How do Canadians feel about removing statues of politicians–some of them iconic–who espoused racist views or who supported racist policies?

A new survey by Leger and the Association For Canadian Studies has provided some perspective and some answers.

It found about half of respondents said they oppose the idea of removing such monuments.

In contrast, 31 per cent said they support the idea, and 19 per cent said they simply did not not know.

Seventy-five per cent of respondents were against the “spontaneous” tearing down of Macdonald’s statue while 11 per cent said they were in favour.

(The divide was smaller when it came to streets, schools and other public institutions bearing the names of historic figures shown to have been racist, with 47 per cent against renaming them and 34 per cent in favour.)

Macdonald’s statue was toppled to the ground by demonstrators after a protest march calling for defunding of the police reached its end at Place du Canada in downtown Montreal. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

The survey comes two days after a statue of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, was overturned in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island on Monday and follows an incident in Montreal last month that provided content for newspapers and websites across Canada and around the world that showed MacDonald’s severed bronzed head on the ground not far from his bronzed body–also felled–in the heart of Montreal.

Anti-racist demonstrators performed the separation surgery on Aug. 29 on a statue that has been around for 125 years.

Politicians across the political spectrum, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, were quick to condemn the vandalism, at the time the latest attack on a Macdonald statue, which have been vandalised across Canada.

Red paint trickles down from a statue of Macdonald in June in Charlottetown following public demands that it be removed from Victoria Row in Prince Edward Island’s capital, the birthplace of Confederaton in 1864. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

Supporters of the demonstrators said Macdonald had earned the attacks.

He was, after all, the architect of the country’s residential school system, where tens of thousands of Indigenious children were removed from their homes in an attempt to stamp out Indigenous culture–a policy that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada report in 2015 called “cultural genocide.”

So Canadians were/are–once again–asking themselves and each other: “Should Macdonald stay (at least, his statue), or should he go?”

According to Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque, the numbers suggest Canadians are more supportive of a deliberate process of dealing with such statues — but take a critical view of activists taking matters into their own hands.

“If it was not through vandalism, would that number be different? Most likely. Because fully a third of Canadians say they would support removing a monument or statue if it were for the reasons described there,” Bourque said.

The Macdonald statue in downtown Montreal was also vandalized in November 2017 (above). (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

“But support for doing so through vandalism or some form of illegal action is not supported. In the context that it was done in Montreal, it doesn’t get support from anybody.”

The results show respondents are also divided over how they see Macdonald.

Forty-four per cent said they considered him first and foremost as the architect of Canadian confederation while 15 per cent viewed him as having set in motion policies that attacked the rights of Indigenous Peoples and sought to assimilate them.

Thirty-seven per cent said they did not know enough about him to say either way.

This Macdonald statue beside the Wilmot Township offices in Baden, Ont. was moved into storage last month after the local town council decided it needed to go because it commemorates an individual who is responsible for Canada’s racist policies against First Nations people. A new home for the statue is being sought. (Joe Pavia/CBC)

In another question, only 15 per cent said they had a positive view of Macdonald while 47 per cent were neutral, 12 per cent were negative and 26 per cent did not know.

The online survey of 1,529 Canadians took place Sept. 4-6. An internet poll cannot be given a margin of error because it is not a random sample.

With files from The Canadian Press, Leger

Categories: Indigenous, Politics
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