The statue of Sir Winston Churchill in downtown Edmonton has been vandalized with red paint.
The paint covering the statue in Churchill Square was discovered Thursday morning. It’s not known when the statue was defaced.
Churchill was Britain’s prime minister from 1940-45 and again from 1951-55.
Churchill’s views on race were controversial and complex, and some of his statements would certainly be deemed racist in 2021 — but he remains a widely respected national hero who led the country to victory during the Second World War.
The Churchill statue in Halifax has come under scrutiny, and the world famous statue in England’s Parliament Square has been defaced numerous times.
In 2020, protesters sprayed “was a racist” on the plinth of the Sir Winston Churchill statue in London.
Mark Milke, the president of the Sir Winston Churchill Society of Calgary, said Thursday while he hadn’t seen the vandalism firsthand, he was disappointed to hear about it.
“That’s really tragic and unfortunate,” Milke said.
The society aims to preserve and promote Churchill’s legacy, and is in the process of erecting their own statue in Calgary in 2022.
“He was not perfect. He did not have views in perfect accordance with ours today — but that’s unrealistic to expect of any historical figure,” Milke said.
“Winston Churchill was far ahead of his age. He argued for the minimum wage, he argued for pensions for widows, he argued for fewer hours and more protections for factory workers. For someone to attack the statue of Winston Churchill just displays a regrettable lack of understanding of this man’s contributions to the 20th century.
“The proper way to judge a historical figure like Winston Churchill is not that they have views perfectly in accord with ours. That’s unrealistic and no one today will be perfectly blessed by citizens of Canada 100 years from now.
“The way to think about historical figures like Winston Churchill is: did they contribute to freedom and flourishing in their age? And the answer in Winston Churchill is certainly yes.”
In a statement, the president of the Churchill Society of Edmonton said she is also very disappointed by the vandalism.
“At a time when our city is preparing to open up for summer activities after an enforced COVID hiatus, defacing this public monument affects the peaceful summer enjoyment of all Edmontonians,” Elisabeth Checkel said.
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Mayor Don Iveson said he was made aware of the vandalism.
“I don’t know the intent behind the vandalism, but I know historical monuments and sculptures, here and elsewhere, are at the heart of an emotional debate regarding what legacies and stories we venerate as a society,” Iveson said.
“The city welcomes healthy debate and discussion on issues of inclusiveness, and how we go about addressing historical wrongdoings and inequities like systemic racism. However, I believe there are more productive ways to move society along towards a more inclusive and uplifting future, than vandalizing city property.
“The most productive debate and balanced community discussions are where facts can be shared and public input can be heard.”
The mayor said the city’s naming committee is currently reviewing the city’s naming policy to incorporate a renaming policy in consultation with the community. A report on the subject is scheduled to be heard by city council on Aug. 24.
Nisha Patel is the City of Edmonton’s poet laureate who created a poem called “In Search of Alternative Names for Churchill Square,” which highlights racist statements made by Churchill.
She told Global News that her poem attracted backlash from Churchill’s supporters in the form of hate mail.
Patel said she believes the vandalism “shows any attempt at dialogue or outreach has truly failed at this point, because we haven’t taken into account that there are angry people with valid feelings who want to express their frustration, especially in a system or democracy where not everything works perfectly, not everyone gets their voice heard.”
She added it’s important to note the people who vandalized the statue did not harm anyone.
“There have been a lot of people who have been wanting this conversation — both behind the scenes in the city as well as in the public — for years, and people like the Churchill Society have never been ones to be open to it,” Patel said.
“I think if this is what it takes to reach a critical point, where opposition is taken seriously by people who are bigoted, then this is what we have to do.”
Patel said she acknowledges that Churchill’s life had a significant impact on the world and many people’s lives.
“Those impacts were positive and negative,” she said. “There were people that benefited from colonialism and there are people who continue to suffer from it today.
“Not standing up for living people as we exist today shows that you don’t care about the people around you. You care more about a name on a plaque than the people who live in your own city.”
Patel said it should not go overlooked that Churchill was a man who was quoted on positions like not being opposed to “using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes,” calling Indians “a beastly people” and for being quoted as saying he did not feel Indigenous people in North America suffered any mistreatment.
She said she believes the best solution would simply to not “build statues of anyone.”
“If we do choose to do that, we have to take on the responsibility that truth shifts and changes as we learn more information,” she said. “For the Churchill Society to come out and say that history is immovable, that we’re no longer a part of it, that something happened and we have to treat it as fair as we would today is wrong.
“We’re the living descendants of this history. This is our past and we carry those legacies whether we choose to continue to have statues of genocide and colonialism or if we choose to put a different step forward for our children.
“I think Edmonton is good enough to make big hard choices like taking a statue down.”
Premier Jason Kenney tweeted about the act of vandalism on Thursday afternoon, posting that “no member of the greatest generation can meet the standards of contemporary wokeness.”
“People should continue to debate Churchill’s complex legacy and record, but vandalizing public property like this is shameful,” he tweeted.
“We should still honour those who secured our peace and freedom.”
Shortly before 11:30 a.m., the Edmonton Police Service said it had received a call about graffiti in the area about half an hour earlier.
A spokesperson with the EPS said the Edmonton Arts Council will be tasked with cleaning the statue.
With files from Redmond Shannon, Global News.