Vote “No” to Cancel Culture

I don’t know who I will be voting for in upcoming elections at the local, provincial and federals levels. But I’m dead sure about who won’t get my vote.

I will stay home rather than vote for anyone who supports desecrating and removing statues of people who were regarded as heroes and trail blazers in their day but whose mistakes have become more apparent with the passing of time.

First, they came for John A. Macdonald. Then Ryerson. Who’s next? Churchill? The Queen?

At this rate, we will have buildings stacked full of discarded and dismembered memorials to once-great people who created, built and defended Canada, which despite its faults remains the envy of millions around the world.

Where is the courage to denounce this so-called cancel culture and ask the question: What good will this divisive movement accomplish?

If we are looking for perfect role models to replace these political cast-offs, we had better get used to statues of dogs and other non-human creatures.

You don’t need to be an historian to know that there are no perfect practitioners of the art of the possible---not now, not ever. Politics was, remains, and is increasingly becoming a tough and thankless task.

Perpetrators and defenders of the statue desecration process say their action will facilitate much-needed reconciliation with our Indigenous people, who have suffered from extreme injustice, inequality and racism for generations and continue to do so.

I disagree.

Reconciliation is a two-way street. It requires widespread public participation and support. If we are to better understand, respect and appreciate each other, how can this be accomplished by unlawful acts of vandalism to appease some at the cost of angering, insulting and alienating the many?

Degradation and destruction of public property is hardly an effective tool for teaching and practicing tolerance, civility and mutual respect.

I regret that the Sir John A. Macdonald statue in City Park upsets some people and I can understand that pain for those who have suffered from the residential school system and find solace in placing the blame on our first prime minister.

Truth to tell, there were many people to blame for devising, implementing and operating that hellish system for more than 100 years. Macdonald played a major role but the schools started before he was PM and lasted long after he was gone because they had wide public support at the time.

But what about that large segment of today’s public who admit Macdonald’s failures but celebrate his strengths and believe there would not be a Canada today without his leadership.

Was Macdonald a racist? Yes. His contemporaries in the White House had been slave owners. These leaders lived in rough, expansionary times and a lot of people got hurt in the process—especially racial minorities. Sadly, that injustice and inequality remain today.

When I walk by the Macdonald statue in City Park, I am reminded of a man who was regarded as one of the world’s great leaders in a league with contemporaries like Disraeli and Lincoln. My country that he created is one of the best in the world and I am proud that Sir John A was a Kingstonian and our Member of Parliament with finger prints all over this area---from our hospital to Queen’s University and much, much more.

I never drive by the Cataraqui Cemetery on Sydenham Road without casting a glance in the direction of Macdonald’s gravesite and thinking how proud we should be that he was one of us, scars and all.

Arriving here as a very young lad, this man some want to publicly vilify, debase and destroy is very much the hometown boy. But instead of celebrating him, we are now in the process of trying to protect him from derision and obscurity.

The recent tragic discovery of unmarked graves at a former residential school in Manitoba has added fuel to the flames for those who believe we must remove reminders of the past.

The school cemetery discovery has provided that eureka moment for many and a renewed demand for public remorse and genuine actions for reconciliation.

Macdonald statues have been removed in Victoria, Charlottetown and more recently in Picton, where local politicians caved to demands of local protesters. The issue is now back before our own City Council.

The Macdonald statue in City Park has been there since 1895. One proposal before Kingston politicians is to shorten the height of the statue, removing the old politician from his pedestal. All the easier to damage and desecrate, I guess.

It is situations like this that demand courage and wisdom from our leaders in politics, religion, and all other sectors of society.

It is easy to make apologies and public statements about regret and remorse and good intentions.

It is harder to stand up to the throng and preach the need for truth and understanding and implement policy that will actually right the wrongs of the past and pave a better path forward.

Murray Sinclair, the first Indigenous member of the judiciary, a former senator and chair of the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is one of the many respected voices who disagree with trying to erase the parts of history we disdain.

Sinclair, who has joined the Kingston community in his appointment as the incoming Chancellor of Queen’s University, advocates ending the long-held policy of ignoring Indigenous leaders who have made major contributions to Canada and to partnerships with the non-Indigenous people. We should focus on honouring and commemorating these leaders, says the highly respected Sinclair.

Former local Senator Hugh Segal, in a recent speech commemorating Macdonald, reminded his audience that without the partnership of First Nations and Metis allies in the fight to repel the Americans, it is highly unlikely that generals like Brock or de Salaberry would have been successful in the defence of Canada.

Think about it. Today there would be no Canada. We could have been living under the yoke of Donald J. Trump for the past four years !

Here in Kingston, we don’t have to look far for greatness among our Indigenous people. The issue is that we haven’t been interested up to now.

For example, most have never heard of Dr. Oronhyatekha, the second Indigenous person to graduate in medicine in Canada (1867), scholar at Oxford and successful CEO of a multinational financial institution.

He was well known in this area, working as a physician in Napanee, Tyendinaga and Belleville and lobbying on behalf of his people.

The Historic Sites and Monuments Boad of Canada has declared him a person of national historic interest, Heritage Toronto established a plaque for him in Allan Gardens and when he died in 1907 he lay in state at Massey Hall and 10,000 people paid their respects.

Dr. Oronhyatekha was a strong advocate for Indigenous people and supported Macdonald in framing a law to extend their right to vote (a law repealed by the Laurier government some years later.)

So much to learn and repair. So little time.

The time we have should be spent on building, not destroying.

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