Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

First prime minister's statue defaced on birthday

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OTTAWA -- Canada's first prime minister appears to have been dragged into another political fight, just as the current government details how it plans to celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth in two years.

A statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in Kingston, Ont., was hit overnight Thursday by vandals who left it covered with graffiti, including the words "murderer" and "colonizer," and the phrase, "This is stolen land."

The vandalism took place on the eve of an event by Heritage Minister James Moore in the same downtown park and prior to Friday's tumultuous meetings between aboriginal leaders and the prime minister in Ottawa.

Friday also happened to be Macdonald's birthday.

"It's just disrespectful, unnecessary and I just think it's ugly," Moore said in an interview from Kingston, Macdonald's hometown.

"We live in a democracy where people are free to protest and free to talk about things, but committing crimes and vandalizing historic monuments is kind of a coward's route to making a point."

Kingston police speculated the vandalism might have been politically motivated -- but not necessarily by those sympathetic with the Idle No More protests for aboriginal rights.

"It would look to be a political statement, but at the same time people might be seeking that for political purposes," said Kingston police Const. Steve Koopman.

"We're going to be cautious as to what the motive is at this point."

Thousands of aboriginal protesters and their supporters participated Friday in demonstrations across Canada. At the same time, a group of First Nations leaders met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss a range of issues from treaty rights to resource development.

The federal government has earmarked $860,000 to help mark Macdonald's bicentennial in 2015. A half-million dollars has gone to the Sir John A. Macdonald Bicentennial Commission to organize commemorative and educational activities, and $360,000 to the Historica-Dominion Institute to develop a series of television spots about Macdonald and fellow father of Confederation George-Étienne Cartier.

Macdonald, who was prime minister for 19 years, was instrumental in forming the Great Coalition with his political rivals that served as the basis for Confederation in 1867. During his tenure, other provinces and territories were subsequently brought into the new nation, and the national railway was built.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 12, 2013 A18

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