Ask to show ‘two perspectives’ of Macdonald legacy causes stir at Kingston council

Kingston councillor Jeff McLaren was shot down at council Tuesday night for suggesting Indigenous and non-Indigenous views of Sir John A. Macdonald be highlighted in Kingston. John Lawless / Global News

An amendment to include Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives separately when presenting Sir John A. Macdonald’s legacy in Kingston, Ont., garnered strong reactions from local councillors Tuesday night.

Coun. Peter Stroud called it “the worst amendment (he had) ever seen.”

“I couldn’t state my opposition to this amendment any stronger,” he said.

Read more: Sir John A. Macdonald’s gravesite in Kingston, Ont., vandalized

The suggestion to amend a staff recommendation, put forward by Coun. Jeff McLaren and seconded by Coun. Ryan Boehme, asked that going forward, projects involving Macdonald, such as moving the statue or changing plaques around the city, offer two views of Canada’s first prime minister.

“What I’ve been trying to suggest is that we have different perspectives, the two contrary perspectives presented to the public at the same time,” McLaren clarified in an interview Wednesday.

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During that meeting, McLaren argued that council has moved away from its original aims of including various views on the issue, to simply replacing old ideology, that of the settlers, with newer ideology, of which he did not specify.

“So history, in order to get a fuller view of it, requires different perspectives. The truth requires an expansion of perspective. It’s ideology that demands fewer. And in fact, one,” he said.

McLaren was the only councillor who voted against the removal of the Macdonald statue from City Park this summer, and has consistently maintained that its removal caused division rather than reconciliation.

Click to play video: 'Sir John A statue removed from Kingston’s City Park' Sir John A statue removed from Kingston’s City Park
Sir John A statue removed from Kingston’s City Park – Jun 18, 2021

McLaren argued the actions of council and the Macdonald working group will cause “retribution and resentment” for generations to come by only presenting one dominant view of Macdonald’s legacy.

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“What we should be doing is having an authentic expression of the Indigenous perspective and the traditional one that we have had for over a hundred years or so. It’s a legitimate one. It’s one that my ancestors, my culture comes from,” McLaren said at council Tuesday.

Coun. Boehme was the only other person around the virtual horseshoe to speak in favour of the amendment. He too said council moved away from its original direction of contextualizing Macdonald’s legacy.

“It was a very additive process. What ended up coming away from that was not what I originally envisioned. And it was basically to remove something,” he said.

The two councillors and their opinions were vociferously challenged by others during the meeting.

Coun. Robert Kiley spent some time poking holes in the concept that the city was seeking only a majority of Indigenous perspectives on Macdonald.

He pointed out that the working group is specifically made up of three Indigenous and non-Indigenous members, along with two representatives from local Indigenous communities.

Kiley also noted that several rounds of public consultation have taken place involving Macdonald’s legacy that offered every citizen the right to share their opinions.

Click to play video: 'Fate of Macdonald statue at Kingston’s Cataraqui Cemetery could take a while' Fate of Macdonald statue at Kingston’s Cataraqui Cemetery could take a while
Fate of Macdonald statue at Kingston’s Cataraqui Cemetery could take a while – Jul 21, 2021

“If I can be blunt, and I have great respect for my colleagues, Coun. McLaren and Coun. Boehme, but not on this amendment,” Kiley said.

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“It seems like a manufactured problem that we’ve heard very clearly from staff is not the intent. It’s not in the mandate. It’s not what’s happened in the past. It’s not what’s happened in the future. And to suggest otherwise is an intentional distortion of what’s before us.”

Coun. Mary-Rita Holland argued that the two councillors supporting the amendment were ignoring the real harm done to Indigenous people throughout Canada’s history.

“We’re talking about the legacy of a prime minister who had major influence in areas of genocide and abuse of Indigenous people throughout many generations in this country,” she said.

Boehme and McLaren both denied that they were negating the harms done to Indigenous communities in Canada.

Stroud argued that McLaren was still upset that council voted to take the statue down, and was now trying take steps to reverse that outcome.

“This kind of rhetoric is actually upsetting to Indigenous people and I would like to remind council of some of the testimony we heard on the special meeting from survivors of the abuse and of the residential school system. That played a big part in the way that we came to our final decision,” he said.

Following a string of serious critiques, McLaren argued that he was being misunderstood, and that forcing one narrative that includes Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives would be like forcing an assault victim to find common ground with their aggressor.

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Click to play video: 'City not contemplating renaming or removing more Macdonald landmarks says mayor Bryan Paterson' City not contemplating renaming or removing more Macdonald landmarks says mayor Bryan Paterson
City not contemplating renaming or removing more Macdonald landmarks says mayor Bryan Paterson – Jun 22, 2021

Still, his amendment was voted down, with only Coun. Simon Chapelle, Boehme and himself in favour.

McLaren also proposed a second amendment that would have council look into other final locations for Macdonald statue, which is currently slated to end up at the Cataraqui Cemetery, pending Indigenous consultation.

That amendment was shot down by Mayor Bryan Paterson, who said it was not procedurally viable at Tuesday’s council meeting.

McLaren then proposed another motion that would avoid the terms “ceremonial” “organizers” but eventually let that motion drop after hearing explanation from staff.

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