Protesters in Montreal toppled and defaced a statue of John A. Macdonald on Sunday as rallies were held in several cities to demand that police services be defunded and reformed.
A spokesman for the Montreal police confirmed the statue of Canada’s first prime minister was unbolted, pulled down and sprayed with graffiti at around 2:45 p.m. The statue’s head was disconnected from its body during the incident.
Jean-Pierre Brabant said police were on hand but did not intervene other than to ask the crowd to disperse on a loudspeaker.
He said no arrests were made.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said she condemns the vandalism that took place on Saturday.
“Some historical monuments, here as elsewhere, are at the heart of current emotional debates. I reiterate that it’s better to put them in context rather than remove them. I am also in favour of adding monuments that are more representative of the society to which we aspire.”
She added that the city’s public art office will secure the perimeter and coordinate the conservation of the statue in consultation with the city’s heritage experts.
The incident came at the end of a peaceful protest in which police estimate some 200 people marched to call for police defunding as part of what they called a nationwide day of action.
According to a flyer obtained by Global News, the movement to remove the statue was organized separately from the group calling for police defunding.
“Today, inspired by a summer of rebellion and anti-racist protest, a diverse coalition of young activists take it upon themselves to act where the city has failed,” read the flyer.
“We offer this action in solidarity with the Indigenous peoples of Tio’tia:ke, Turtle Island and across the globe, and all those fighting against colonialism and anti-blackness in the struggle for a better world.”
Images from the event show a crowd of protesters marching in the rain under umbrellas and carrying signs bearing slogans such as “We demand change.”
The organizers, who call themselves the Coalition for BIPOC Liberation, are asking cities to reduce their police budgets by 50 per cent.
They said the diverted funds could be used to invest in alternatives to policing such as better mental health treatment, civilian conflict resolution services, and trauma-based emergency services.
Calls to withdraw funding from police forces have multiplied in both Canada and the United States in the months after George Floyd, a Black man in Minnesota, was killed when a police officer pressed a knee against his neck for nearly nine minutes.
This set of protests follow a week that has seen major-league athletes strike over the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot in the back seven times by a police officer. The 29-year-old was left paralyzed.
This week also saw Ontario’s police watchdog clear officers who were in the Toronto home of Regis Korchinski-Paquet when she fell to her death from a 24th-floor balcony in May. The Special Investigations Unit said officers didn’t commit any crimes, but the woman’s family said that if officers hadn’t been there, she would still be alive.
Rallies were also held in Toronto and London, Ont. Others were scheduled in Fredericton, Moncton and Halifax, according to organizers.
The John A. Macdonald statue, which sits in Montreal Place du Canada, has been repeatedly targeted by vandals who see it as a symbol of racism and colonialism.
The statue has regularly been doused in paint by critics who cite Macdonald’s role at the head of a government that created the Indian Act and established the residential school system, as well as his racist comments about Indigenous Peoples as reasons to target the monument.
Macdonald statues in other Canadian cities have been vandalized in a similar fashion.
–with files from Global News’ Alessia Maratta