March 7, 2022

‘It washes off. You’re not going to get those souls back’: Saint John statue vandalized

A statue of Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley in King’s Square in Saint John, N.B., was vandalized Thursday, after the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential school sites.

The plaque has been crossed out, red handprints adorn the base and the words “Land Back” are painted across one side.

The City of Saint John has filed a police report after a statue of Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley was vandalized.

Travis Fortnum / Global News

Tilley, a Father of Confederation, served as premier of New Brunswick, Lieutenant governor of New Brunswick and finance minister in Sir John A. Macdonald’s government.

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Despite the time period in which he served, historians say his actual ties to Canada’s residential school system are loose at best.

“I think ‘loose ties’ describes it quite fairly,” says Jim Miller, history professor emeritus with the University of Saskatchewan.

“Of course, as a member of cabinet he would have had to support the policy in 1883 because if he didn’t support it, he would’ve been out.”

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A local activist agrees there are degrees of separation — but says the vandalism itself isn’t unexpected.

“It’s not shocking to me at all,” says Cassandra McLaughlin, director with Indigenous activist group Eastern Circle.

“It is justifiable because of the history of the confederate fathers. Tilley was John A. Macdonald’s best friend.”

McLaughlin herself says she wasn’t involved in the vandalism of the statue, nor does she know who could’ve done it.

In a written statement issued Friday afternoon, the City of Saint John confirms a police report has been filed.

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This incident comes as statues Canadawide have been similarly defaced or toppled altogether, and Catholic churches burned to the ground.

Grief, McLaughlin says, as we grapple with the nation’s dark history after centuries of mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples.

“Trauma and pain can build up for so long and then all it takes is one good catalyst and that’s it,” she says.

“It’s just red paint. It washes off. You’re not going to get those souls back,” she says.

In its release, the city says it is working quickly to remove the paint from Tilley’s statue — with no mention of any plans to remove the statue or alter it in any way.

McLaughlin says she wishes they’d leave the paint on for at least a few days.

“That would be a huge message,” she says.

“Recognition is reconciliation.”

Global News reached out to the Saint John Police Force with questions about the investigation, but those weren’t answered by end of day Friday.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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