Ottawa has updated his biography of John A. Macdonald to reflect racist policies. But good luck finding it


After facing a deluge of criticism for keeping his outdated biography of John A. Macdonald online for so long, Library and Archives Canada quietly released a more accurate profile last July.

But good luck finding it.

The effort required to find the new biography on the library’s website has left advocates wondering why the federal government has made it difficult to locate the updated text that describes the racist policies of the Prime Minister of Canada.

“To make it so hard to find, you start to suspect: is the government really serious about confronting our racist past? Said Amy Go, president of the China-Canada National Council for Social Justice.

Unlike Macdonald’s old federal agency profile, the new one clearly shows that he “laid the foundation for the federal government’s systematically racist relationship with Indigenous peoples through colonial policies and actions.”

But unlike the previous biography, the new text cannot be easily found directly through Google. The old biography was among the first Google results to search for Macdonald’s name, included in a now-defunct section of biographies of Canadian prime ministers on the library’s website.

Finding the updated version requires a series of steps. You must first search for the John A. Macdonald fonds in search for collections on the LAC website, then click to expand “registration information – details”, then scroll to “biographical / administrative history” and click “view details”.

This opens a block of text containing Macdonald’s new biography.

“It’s very likely that not many people can find it easily and I don’t understand why it wouldn’t be more prominent and visible,” said Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, academic director of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Center at the University of British Columbia.

“To advance truth and justice, it is necessary that biographies be in a place of equal importance and easy to find.”

The Library and Archives acknowledged in an email to The Star that the new biography “may not necessarily be easy to find on our website at the moment”, and said they “were looking for new ways improve user experience ”as they revamped their website.

The Star first raised concerns in October 2020 over concerns over Macdonald’s biography from the library, which remained online until June, when staff were quick to remove it and remove it. other offensive web pages amid renewed criticism.

Librarian and Archivist of Canada Leslie Weir then issued an apology – posted online June 18 – for the offensive content.

Macdonald’s updated biography was released on July 30, LAC said. The Star learned of its existence when it was included in documents obtained as part of an access to information request.

The agency told The Star that “updates are made very regularly” to its website and that “LAC does not normally publish these changes.”

Macdonald’s new text states that the colonial policies of the Prime Minister of Canada “gave the government sweeping unilateral powers to erase and assimilate Indigenous peoples, causing trauma, displacement, denial of the right to vote and exclusion that endure ”.

It lists a number of racist actions, including the creation of residential schools, a form of cultural genocide that has seen thousands of Indigenous children abducted from their families and brought to institutions for assimilation, and where many have died. The previous Macdonald profile omitted any mention of residential schools.

Turpel-Lafond said the new biography is “a marked improvement in the interests of accuracy, although the text indicates whether government policies were racist and if in fact it was the personal racism of (John A. Macdonald ) which led to these genocides. Strategies. “

The updated biography also mentions Macdonald’s impact on Chinese Canadians. He describes racist policies, including the $ 50 head tax imposed on Chinese immigrants.

Go said she was happy to see this piece included, but said that the fact that the new biography is hard to find is not in the spirit of reconciliation and confrontation with the past.

“When we talk about accessibility, openness, transparency, these are essential elements of reconciliation, of learning from our past,” she said. “And it’s not there.”

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