How long will it be until protesters loop a chain around the Overlanders statue in front of Kamloops City Hall and pull it down during an anti-colonialism rally?
Is the day near when we hear demands that the statue of Phil Gaglardi be removed from the downtown square bearing his name (and, perhaps, that the square itself be renamed) due to revisited transgressions by the former highways minister with the penchant for stirring up trouble while he was in office between 1952 and 1972?
Might the names of some Kamloops streets or schools be altered if noxious past words or deeds by the people the asphalt and classrooms honour are uncovered?
Social media has given us cancel culture, the knee-jerk reaction of many to attack a person (usually famous) mercilessly on the basis of a random tweet or Facebook post by someone else, alleging some nefarious act. That online cancel culture abides by the opposite tenet of our justice system — deciding one is guilty before being proven innocent.
The death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis has led to another version of cancel culture, with monuments to various people of the past the targets.
Unlike the social media cancel culture, the monument movement relies on verifiable facts from the past.
The question that nobody seems to be able to answer is: Who decides which offences are worthy of toppling a statue and which misdeeds are tame enough to leave the legacy intact?
Or, as the New York Times asked in an August 2017 article on the toppling of monuments in the Deep South: “Debates are raging over whether the statues should fall because they commemorate those who fought to uphold slavery, or stand because they remind us of a history that cannot be erased.”
Floyd’s death was the latest in a too long string of deaths of black men in the U.S. while dealing with law enforcement. His death — caught on video as he cried for help while a police officer knelt on his neck for almost 10 minutes — was the killing that tipped the scales of outrage and we have seen the results in ongoing anti-racism protests in America and across the globe.
That anger naturally has drawn protesters to statues and other monuments honouring men (they are almost always men) of dubious causes, the most prominent being those venerating leaders of the Confederacy in the United States Civil War.
While it seems to make sense that a statue of Jefferson Davis, the slave-owning president of the Confederate States of America, be removed from Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., the Confederacy’s capital, is it equally understandable to see attacks on statues of Winston Churchill, calls to rename a Canadian city and musings on a new monicker for our province?
The world as one seemed to express its condemnation when, in 2001, the Taliban, citing them as idols, blew up the venerable Buddhas of Bamyan — two sixth-century statues carved into a cliff in Afghanistan. There was also global angst when ISIS members destroyed centuries-old artifacts in Syria and Iraq last decade.
But there is a difference between destroying and removing tributes to the past.
In Moscow, for example, a park was created for fallen monuments from the Soviet era.
Yet, where the statue of John A. MacDonald finally rests remains to be seen. It was removed two years ago from in front of Victoria City Hall due to our first prime minister’s racist and violent attitudes toward Canada’s Indigenous people.
The monumental monument movement continues in the U.S. and elsewhere, just as it has in spurts going back centuries.
Will it ever reach Kamloops? Perhaps. If so, who makes the decision on whether a statue stays or goes?