KINGSTON, ONT. — For a small crowd gathered in downtown Kingston, Ont., the 201st anniversary of the birth of Sir John A. Macdonald is an event worth celebrating.
But a small group of protesters has a radically different view of Canada’s first prime minister, going so far as to call Macdonald a “genocidal maniac.”
The passions escalated overnight, ahead of Monday’s commemoration, when vandals slashed the tires of the event organizer Art Milnes’ car and splashed red paint on the vehicle. They did the same to the car belonging to a local Liberal Member of Parliament.
Milnes, the commissioner of the Sir John A. Macdonald Bicentennial Commission, has spent years trying to raise Macdonald’s profile, but he’s the first to say Macdonald has his faults.
“Show me a perfect prime minister and I’ll show you someone who has never been prime minister,” he said Monday.
While the tires can be fixed or replaced and the paint can be cleaned, he was most disturbed by one other act — a burned Canadian flag left at his own home.
Milnes told Global News one of the first people to attend the event a few years back — a gathering of people singing “O Canada” around the statue of Macdonald at noon on his birthday — was Second World War veteran John Ross Matheson.
“A man who still had shrapnel in his head from fighting for our democratic rights and freedoms for our country and for his children and grandchildren,” Milnes said.
Matheson, also a former MP, was instrumental in the adoption of the Maple Leaf flag.
“This morning somebody burnt Mr. Matheson’s flag and discarded it like garbage at my house,” Milnes said. “Burning Mr. Matheson’s flag, in Kingston, it was sad. I wasn’t angry, I was just sad.”
Matheson died of respiratory complications in 2013.
This isn’t the first time those with angry at Macdonald’s policies against First Nations, which deliberately starved thousands of aboriginals, have turned to vandalism to protest the event.
Three years ago, vandals also defaced the Macdonald statue, located in City Park, by tossing red paint on it and spray painting the message “This is stolen land” and the words “murderer” and “colonizer” on its base.
Protesters were on site Monday, holding signs calling Macdonald a “murderer” and burning his effigy.
“Would people commemorate the crimes that Hitler did? Because this is basically the same principle,” said Natasha Stirrett, a protester with Idle No More Kingston.
“He committed crimes against humanity. So that means in celebrating him, even his legacy, is already with the blood of indigenous people.”
But politicians — even the Liberal MP whose car was also vandalized — welcome the debate.
“We live in a country that allows us to judge that history, whereas there are many parts of the world where people aren’t given that luxury,” said MP Mark Geertsen.
As much as the event is designed to get Canadians to pay attention to our history and to those who built our country, sometimes that can be as much a divisive exercise as a unifying one.
Niigaanwewidam Sinclair, an assistant professor in the University of Manitoba’s Dept. of Native Studies, suggests more Canadians are changing their minds about Macdonald.
“Everyday Canadians are waking up to the idea that this person is not the person that is taught in this classrooms and, therefore, they’re uncomfortable about it.”