Letter to the Editor: Macdonald 'debate' saddens me

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The so-called debate around the legacy of Sir John A. Macdonald — I write “so-called” because you need two sides for a debate, and the report being presented to city council tonight is so one-sided as to make a propagandist blush — has saddened me.

People speak in generalities of Macdonald’s misdeeds, without specifics, without acknowledging that residential schools date to the 1820s, long before Macdonald’s time. And I’m saddened by the fact that the report prepared by city staff does nothing to denounce the vandals and cowards who burn effigies, throw paint, attack Kingstonians in their own homes, and even desecrate a man’s burial site. Yes, it’s come to that, and we should be ashamed to live in a community that allows such things without condemnation, but instead accepts them as credence to a point of view.

It seems anyone who speaks up for Macdonald is immediately tagged as racist, and the discussion ends there. The facts and opinions are dismissed out of hand. How is that helpful in achieving a balanced — and accurate — portrayal of the man? Macdonald’s legacy is being examined, not in the lens of his time but in what we believe to be a more enlightened lens of today.

If we embark on that road, and solely judge yesterday’s leaders by today’s standards, what are we to do with Mohawk leader Molly Brant? What if, for instance, a study of this rightly honoured Kingstonian revealed that she owned a slave? Would we then be talking about taking her name off the new school in Kingscourt and rewriting her plaque at St. Paul’s church to reflect that? Of course not, considering it within the entirety of Brant’s life and her contribution to Canada.

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I stand with Sen. Murray Sinclair, the second Aboriginal judge ever appointed in Canada and chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, who said in 2017, “The problem I have with the overall approach to tearing down statues and buildings is that it is counterproductive to … reconciliation, because it smacks of revenge or acts of anger, (when) in reality, what we are trying to do is create more balance in the relationship.”

Let’s hope councillors on Tuesday night examine in detail what the report in front of them has to say. The man had his flaws, to be sure, but to suggest, for instance, removing Macdonald’s name from the locomotive in Confederation Park because he had no connection to it is simply outrageous. The dots are easy to connect, even for a Grade 9 history dropout: It’s a CPR engine. Macdonald created the CPR. What could be simpler?

That kind of dubious conclusion casts doubt on the validity of the entire report. What credibility can it claim if that’s the kind of conclusion it draws on such a simple element? That’s the lens through which councillors should examine this report, not one that lacks courage of conviction or is tempered by fear of reprisal.

Claude Scilley


P.S. Have a peek at fulton.nygenweb.net/history/slaveryJH.html. Wonder if those calling for Macdonald’s name to be removed from public display will now advocate that we start looking for a new name for the school in Kingscourt. If we’re going to apply a retro lens to history, let’s be consistent (and how many street names would we have to change in Kingston if we did that!).