Vandalism isn’t the solution, but Kingston’s love affair with Sir John A. Macdonald needs to end

Two wrongs don’t make a right — ignoring the real legacy of Canada’s first Prime Minister doesn’t justify vandalism, but neither is vandalism an excuse to continue to celebrate his birthday.  

On Monday, hours before the annual celebration of Sir John A. Macdonald’s birthday, red paint was dumped on MP Mark Gerretsen and event organizer Arthur Milnes’ cars. The latter’s tires were also slashed and a burned Canadian flag was found beneath the car. 

Idle No More, an Indigenous activist group, protested the celebration — which took place despite the vandalism — by burning an effigy of Macdonald at the event. During his tenure as Prime Minister, Macdonald commissioned the residential school system. 

Apart from being criminal, the vandalism leaves an unfavourable impression. Whatever the vandals’ intentions, their actions did more to threaten the integrity of Idle No More’s protest than further its cause. 

Burning a Canadian flag is especially upsetting, as it makes a personal attack on all Canadians, not just Macdonald himself.

The greater concern is that the Kingston community might look at the actions of anonymous vandals and blame Idle No More. We need to be careful that we don’t allow ourselves or others to jump to that conclusion, as there’s no factual basis for it. 

When marginalized groups protest, mainstream discourse has a tendency to focus on how they say something, not what they’re saying. It’s a sad truth that without the vandalism angle, people probably wouldn’t be talking about the Idle No More protest at all.

But, in light of the earlier vandalism, the group’s burning effigy of a human body took on a more violent tone. Rather than provide a strong image to make a point, it made people scared for their safety, most notably the choir that cancelled its appearance. 

Meanwhile, the organizers of the event continued the celebration with a show of bravado. 

While the group’s public impression is important to their cause, we should remember that the validity of an oppressed group’s protest isn’t dependent on their good behaviour.

This isn’t an opportunity to equate vandalism with the Idle No More movement, but to instead look at the deeper root causes of why they’re protesting Macdonald’s birthday celebration. 

There are few words more dreaded than: “We need to talk.”

But we really need to talk about Kingston’s obsession with Sir John A. Macdonald.  

Things have changed since the 19th century when Macdonald was Prime Minister. His policies are no longer supportable and by honouring his contribution to Canada we’re continuing to uphold a legacy that’s outlived any semblance of legitimacy. 

So why hasn’t Kingston taken Macdonald off his pedestal? The statues, roads and schools named after Macdonald unilaterally tell his story as a founding hero, albeit one with a drinking problem. It makes sense for Kingston in particular to celebrate him because he brings in the crowds.  

But we don’t have to look at Macdonald like a founding saint simply because that’s the way it’s always been done. 

Kingston should want to be known for something more than a man whose legacy is inextricably tied to cultural genocide. 

No politician who values their career is going to say they don’t care about Aboriginal issues. But it’s easy to say you care, it’s easy to appear at community events, take a photo or shake a hand. The hard part is being willing to let go of tradition when it becomes the right thing to do. 

Until we stop parading our colonial history, decolonization will remain something that is talked about everywhere, and acted upon nowhere. 

It’s time for Kingston to blow out the birthday candles and stand on the right side of history.  

Journal Editorial Board 

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