People attend a demonstration in Montreal, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020, where they protested to defund the police with a goal to end all systemic racism within all sectors of the Canadian government. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Protesters in Montreal topple John A. Macdonald statue, demand police defunding

Spokesman for the Montreal police confirmed the statue of Canada’s first prime minister was unbolted

MONTREAL — Protesters in Montreal toppled and defaced a statue of John A. Macdonald on Saturday 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 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.

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.

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 protest 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.

But Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante condemned the vandalism of the statue of Macdonald, which she said could be neither tolerated nor accepted.

“I understand and share the motivation of citizens who want to live in a more just and inclusive society,” she said in a statement. “But the discussion and the acts to be taken must be done in a peaceful manner, without ever resorting to vandalism.”

She said the city’s public art office would secure the site and coordinate the statue’s preservation.

Newly elected Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole was less diplomatic, saying on Twitter that Canada is a great country that people should be proud of.

“We will not build a better future by defacing our past,” he said. “It’s time politicians grow a backbone and stand up for our country.”

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.

In Toronto, a protest organized by social justice group Not Another Black Life saw a large crowd of demonstrators take over two parks before culminating in a march through the the city to Toronto Police Headquarters.

Protesters were greeted by cheers from those sitting in restaurants and watching from their windows, though a few people shouted profanities at demonstrators.

Diana McCormick, a server and bar manager, had just finished her shift when she said she heard a man yelling at protesters in front of the restaurant she works at, taunting them with the phrase “all lives matter.”

It was at that moment McCormick decided to join the protest.

“I think it’s a really, really important moment, where taking a stand now is becoming more contentious than it used to be,” she said, pointing to increasingly volatile political rhetoric directed toward protesters from politicians and pundits.

“I’m not anybody important but there is strength in numbers. More of us need to physically show up and not just support from the sidelines.”

The John A. Macdonald statue, which sits in Montreal’s 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.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 29, 2020.

—with files by Jake Kivanc in Toronto.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlire version carried an incorrect day of the week.

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