The president of Royal Roads University has posted a video on YouTube refuting claims that removing statues somehow erases history.
Philip Steenkamp's comments came before a Toronto Black Lives Matter protest today in which several statues were vandalized.
Among them was a sculpture of educator Egerton Ryerson, seen by many as the architect of the residential school system. This government policy was characterized as "cultural genocide" by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2015.
"At some point, it becomes intolerable to live with the images of slave traders, genocidal kings, brutal dictators, and the architects of white supremacy," Steenkamp says in the video. "And there is a justifiable fury about honouring these figures in the public square."
A statue of Canada's first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, like the sculpture of Ryerson, was drenched in pink ink today in Toronto. The same occured to a statue of King Edward VII.
The Royal Roads president was a historian before becoming a senior bureaucrat and later a senior administrator at SFU and UBC.
In the video, he cites the example of Edward Colston, whose statue was recently thrown into the river in Bristol, England.
Steenkamp acknowledges that he used his wealth to support charities, but noted that this philanthropy was funded by the slave trade.
Therefore, Steenkamp says, it's "understandable" that people would object to honouring someone who made money by enslaving tens of thousands of people.
"All over the world, statues are being moved, toppled, or painted with graffiti. Examples include John A. Macdonald in Canada, Confederate general Robert E. Lee in Virginia, Theodore Roosevelt in New York City, Christopher Columbus in many U.S. cities, and he Belgian king, Leopold III, in Antwerp, Belgium," Steenkamp points out.
The Royal Roads University president adds that critics are calling these incidents acts of vandalism.
Steenkamp disagrees with those who accuse demonstrators of "erasing history".
"But to say that removing statues somehow erases history misrepresents not only what history is, but also what statues are supposed to do," he says. "Statues are not about recording history.
"They are meant to shape our perception of history for particular purposes—usually to reinforce the existing order and the position of the rich and powerful," he continues. "A statue is not a history of lesson. It's a way of celebrating, venerating, or honouring someone."
Rather, Steenkamp thinks the public should look upon statues as themselves being a part of history rather than objects that record history. And taking them down forces the public to confront history.
Furthermore, he states in the video that it's "absurd to think that no one would remember history" if there were no statues of historical figures.
"We don't need statues of Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco to remember them and their history of brutality," Steenkamp says. "The city of Berlin doesn't remember its history with statues of Nazis but rather with monuments to their victims."