Regina’s Patrick Johnson is claiming responsibility for painting red hands on the statue of John A. MacDonald, saying he did it to get people to really talk about the legacy of violence against First Nations people.
In a phone interview with 980 CJME, Johnson said he painted the statue for the second time this year as a protest against institutionalized racism and systemic violence faced by First Nations people every day. He said the first time he defaced the statue was in response to the Crown’s decision not to appeal the not guilty verdict Gerald Stanley’s trial for the killing of Colten Boushie.
He suggested painting Canada’s first prime minister with red to represent blood on his hands was a way to present the balance of history that has been erased by the dominant society for generations.
“The idea that John A. MacDonald has blood on his hands, it just speaks of continued oppression by the federal government – not just John A. MacDonald, but that was the beginning of it – but his policies have been maintained throughout the country for 150 years,” Johnson commented.
Johnson said he was motivated to make what he calls an artistic and social statement as a way to push the hardships faced by First Nations people to the forefront. He said right now those issues are “pushed to the margins where people don’t see and it doesn’t make them uncomfortable.”
“As a white person and a member of the Regina community I wanted to come forward and say that this was important to me and maybe to try to drive the dialogue and the discussion about what is actually happening,” Johnson commented.
He suggested that the statue would be more appropriate in a museum rather than a public space like a park.
“I’m not trying to erase history, I’m trying to talk about it and get a balanced expression of it,” Johnson said.
While he understands there may be repercussions and retribution for his actions, the local musician and father of two said it can’t be worse than living with the status quo.
When asked why he chose the path of vandalism and civil disobedience, Johnson commented that official channels like making a complaint to the city have all been established by the people that are the problem. He said he wouldn’t hold his breath for a bureaucracy that just requires many meetings.
“Even though it might be controversial to other people, you know, just filling out the paperwork and waiting for things to change is going nowhere,” he said.
Johnson said he weighed the options and decided that it shouldn’t just remain as an anonymous act of what he calls civil disobedience and protest.
Mayor describes vandalism as “unfortunate”
Speaking to 980 CJME earlier in the week, before Johnson came forward, Mayor Michael Fougere spoke against the act of vandalism.
“With respect to Sir John A. MacDonald, he’s our former prime minister and he did some very good things for our country and some not-so-good things that we are learning about, and it’s unfortunate that people take that avenue,” Fougere commented.
He argued that vandalizing the statue hurts a serious debate about the role MacDonald played in Canadian history.
The city of Victoria, B.C. recently made a controversial decision to remove a statue of MacDonald as part of reconciliation efforts with Indigenous communities.
Fougere said the statue is meant to celebrate the first prime minister and a father of confederation. While he did some things that are very difficult to accept such as residential schools, the mayor argues MacDonald also did many great things for Canada.
“I believe that taking down the statue would divide our city,” Fougere commented. “What we could do is put up a plaque that talks about the good things he did and the things that we must learn from and make sure never happens again.”
The mayor suggested the educational element is more important, to not remove history but to talk about all aspects and learn from it.