Canada Post Printed Stamps With Former Prime Minister's Decapitated Head

The man who had them made, through Canada Post's Picture Postage program, promised to send them to people for free if they or their ancestors were "fucked over" by John A. Macdonald.
September 10, 2020, 9:02pm
Canada Post stamps of John A. Macdonald's decapitated head.
Official Canada Post stamps of John A. Macdonald's severed head. Image courtesy of James Bone

Canada Post has apologized after the severed bronze head of the country’s first Prime Minister was immortalized in stamp form. 

James Bone, a federal government employee who handles stamp collections at Library and Archives Canada, had a sheet of official Canada Post stamps made bearing the detached head of a John A. Macdonald statue that was recently toppled in Montreal. 

Bone posted a photo of a sheet of 50 domestic stamps on Twitter Tuesday, tweeting “Please RT if fuck colonialism” and promising to send them to people free of charge “if you or your ancestors were fucked over by Macdonald.”

He had them printed through Canada Post’s Picture Postage program, which allows people to put their own photos on usable domestic or international stamps for a fee ($68 for a sheet of domestic stamps), a service that’s typically used to innocently celebrate birthdays and anniversaries.  

Bone said he was pleasantly surprised that his photo of Macdonald’s severed head made it through the printing process. 

“I think I just got lucky the first time around. Somebody was sort of asleep at the printer,” he said. 

“I hope nobody lost their job over it.”

After his tweet blew up, the Ottawa resident mailed the stamps out in 13 batches on Wednesday afternoon. He tried to print more to satisfy the dozens of requests he was getting, but Canada Post shut him down, even responding to him directly on Twitter to say the stamps “shouldn’t have been processed.”

Macdonald served as Canada’s prime minister in 1867-1873 and 1878-1891. While he was known for overseeing the creation of Canada and its national railway system, those accomplishments came at the expense of the Indigenous peoples who had lived on the land for thousands of years. 

Macdonald’s policies facilitated mass starvation of Indigenous peoples, whom he regularly referred to as “savages.” His conservative government also orchestrated the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their homes to be placed in residential schools, where they were often abused.

On Aug. 29, Montrealers pulled down a statue of Macdonald following a demonstration in support of defunding police. Videos circulated online of the statue falling and its head popping off, bouncing on the wet concrete to applause

Canadian politicians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, condemned the toppling of the statue. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney asked for it to be shipped west and erected at the Alberta legislature. 

As someone who works with postage stamps for a living–a philatelic archivist, to be precise–Bone has spent a lot of time thinking about their power and meaning. He hopes his “fun subversion” helps Canadians take a more critical look at their country’s past.

“Stamps represent the official image of the country, and sometimes the official image of the country isn’t the more nuanced truth of its history,” Bone said. 

“I’m a very privileged settler. I’m amongst the group that Macdonald and his type favoured in the development of Canada. I realize that part of reconciliation is recognizing that those who have privilege for historical reasons, they need to try even harder to decolonize as best as possible even if it’s never fully possible.”

Canada Post was not amused by the stamp or the attention Bone’s tweet received. 

In an email to VICE News, a spokesperson said Canada Post was investigating how the image cleared the approval process for submissions to the Picture Postage program.

“This image does not meet the terms and conditions of the program and should not have been approved or printed,” the statement said. “We apologize and will take measures to ensure our vetting and approval processes are strengthened and closely followed.”

Meanwhile, the 13 Canadians waiting to receive the stamps in the mail will soon hold a piece of history in the form of a limited edition collectible.

Follow Kevin Maimann on Twitter.