Is it Time to Remove Statues of Pierre Elliott Trudeau?
With Canadians growing increasingly critical of historical figures’ past wrongdoings, some previously revered statues are earning new homes away from public spaces - or in pieces on the ground.
Statues of John A. MacDonald are coming down all over the country as more Canadians become aware of the first Prime Minister’s policies against Indigenous Peoples. Now, we’re asking whether or not we should also be fighting for the removal of Pierre Elliott Trudeau statues, monuments, and dedications.
The Regina city council voted to have a statue of John A. Macdonald placed in storage until a new location is found for the carved stone. On April 13th, the council voted 7 to 4 to remove the statue from Regina’s Victoria Park. The city removed the statue quietly to ensure the safety of workers, the area, and staff. A public art collection curator was on site to ensure the safe handling of the statue. Cree resident, Kerry Bellegarde Opoonechaw, called the removal a “small victory” for First Nations Peoples.
Macdonald (PM 1867 - 1873 and 1878 - 1891) was involved in initiating day schools and residential schools for forced assimilation of over 150,000 Indigenous children. The schools pushed young people away from their roots and cultures and relocated older generations away from traditional hunting and fishing area. Indigenous land was taken to make room for European settlements, and John A. MacDonald’s policies were at the forefront of these moves.
In August of 2020, Montreal activists toppled a 125-year-old statue of the Colonial leader, decapitating the downtown-based figure. During a Black Lives Matter protest, a pamphlet was distributed calling Macdonald: "a white supremacist who orchestrated the genocide of Indigenous peoples with the creation of the brutal residential schools’ system.”
With so much focus on the traumas caused by Macdonald, some argue that the same policies should apply to Trudeau (PM 1980 - 1984). In March, an online petition called for removing Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s name from the Montreal airport. The petition gathered over 20,000 signatures. Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra quickly rejected the idea.
Trudeau’s handling of the October Crisis and his approach to the repatriation of the Constitution of Canada prevented Indigenous communities from finding reconciliation with the federal government. Trudeau refused Indigenous People the right to self-govern and advocated for the abolition of the Indian Act.
In the 1998 film, Dancing Around the Table, which documents the 1984 First Minister’s Conference on Aboriginal Constitutional Matters, viewers see Trudeau ridiculing Indigenous beliefs. In talks of land ownership, he said, “Are you going to pray every morning in public? Going back to the creator doesn’t help very much. So he gave you a title. But did he draw on the land where your mountain stopped, and someone else’s began?”
In 2020 in Vaughn, Ontario, a statue of Trudeau Sr. in Pierre Elliott Trudeau Park was defaced with paint. Vandalizers were bold enough to scrawl the word “Pedo” across the statue’s base. Vaughn Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua’s statement said, “The former prime minister created opportunities for Canadians and newcomers so that we may all live peacefully and free from discrimination.”
Quebec Premier François Legault stated that the act of destroying statues is unacceptable and, "Destroying parts of our history is not the solution.” Nonetheless, a number of other statues have been toppled or destroyed across the country from Halifax to Vancouver over the past year. Historical figures like James McGill, Egerton Ryerson, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Henry Dundas, are Edward Cornwallis are being condemned for their crimes and associations with colonialism.
Is it time for figures with links to colonialism to fade into the background of history? Does removing their images erase the damage and trauma done to Indigenous Lives through generations?
TBT wants to hear your thoughts on this monumental issue. Leave a comment below: Should Canada remove statues of John A. MacDonald, Pierre Elliott Trudeau and other politicians with links to crimes, racism, and colonialism?