An open letter to Victoria’s mayor and council.
It’s been almost 18 months since a statue of one of the founding fathers of our country was hoisted onto a flatbed outside city hall and kicked out of sight to a chorus mixed with jeers and cheers.
It’s not my aim to regurgitate the circumstances that led to his abrupt departure, although they included decisions by a quasi-secret committee and removal arrangements that were arguably arranged in advance of council’s official decision to kiss Sir John A. MacDonald goodbye.
Nor do I want to fan the flames of speculation as to Mr. MacDonald’s current address, although the corner of the mayor’s closet or the backyard of a councillor are locations considered by this mischievous mind.
We can all agree that Sir John was a product of his time that treated Indigenous peoples in a manner that flies in the face of everything we stand for today. It’s also fair to acknowledge that his guiding hand on the rudder played a significant role in steering us to nationhood.
What’s at issue is how we decide to deal with the warts of bigotry, racism and injustice that will always blot our history, no matter how many statues we banish or how many monuments and schools we race to rename. The question we must grapple with is what is gained by that. Does erasing reminders of past transgressions ensure they are never repeated? Efforts to address them long after the fact are exercises in futility, misguided attempts to unburden our conscience so we can sleep soundly with a smug smile on our face.
There is a solution to this current conundrum, however, that has the power to unite us and, equally important, assuage all concerns in a manner that prevents the wounds of the past from being reopened or repeated.
Strap Sir John A. back onto a truck and erect him in a prominent place in Beacon Hill Park where he will be seen every day by people from around the world. Finding the perfect place shouldn’t be a problem, depending on how many committees are formed to work through the process.
Create a base big enough to dwarf the statue that bears prominent plaques inscribed with the languages of the Songhees and Esquimalt peoples. Include translations in English, French, Cantonese, Mandarin, Russian; the more who read the message, the merrier.
“Here is the statue of Sir John A. MacDonald, which was removed from Victoria City Hall on July 11, 2018, as part of ongoing efforts at reconciliation with survivors of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, on whose land we gratefully stand. Although MacDonald is still revered by some as a founding father of Canada, he was a deeply flawed individual who subjected Indigenous peoples to many injustices that go against everything we stand for today. Please take a few moments to learn more about the history of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations. This is another step we take together in our journey to ensure the mistakes of the past never again stain our history as we move forward toward a future that embraces each and every one of us in unequivocal equality.”
Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired local journalist.