OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s “deeply disappointed” by the vandalism that he said took place when protesters toppled a statue of former prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald in Montreal over the weekend.
The statue was toppled in a fall which decapitated the the former prime minister’s statue during a demonstration on Saturday, calling for the defunding of police.
“We are a country of laws, and we are a country that needs to respect those laws even as we seek to improve and change them,” Trudeau said in Montreal on Monday.
“Those kinds of acts of vandalism are not advancing the path towards greater justice and equality in this country.”
The protest is one of the latest demonstrations against police brutality and systemic racism after several high-profile police-involved deaths of people of colour sparked ongoing protests in Canada and around the world.
While Trudeau said his government has “a lot of work to do,” he also said that he’s “more interested in using the real frustrations that people have as motivations to continue to make the big changes necessary.”
“Choices like this, to rely on vandalism to advance causes, is not going to help anyone move forward the right way,” Trudeau said.
The prime minister did acknowledge, however, that there are “some elements” in the history of Macdonald’s words and actions that must be looked at with a “more critical eye” — one that he said could be extended to all former prime ministers, including Trudeau’s own father.
“I believe that a country must inform itself of its past, must be conscious of positive things and negative things that any leader has done in their career,” Trudeau said, speaking in French.
The Coalition for BIPOC Liberation, which posted the location and timing of the Montreal protest online ahead of the demonstration, took to social media to stand by the actions of the protesters.
“These racist monuments don’t deserve space,” the coalition said in a Facebook post.
It went on to list its demand that all statues, plaques and emblems commemorating perpetrators of racism and slavery be taken down.
“Symbols of hate encourage the mental oppression of marginalized people and serve as reminders to all people of the inequitable imbalance of power and encourage white supremacist attitudes,” the post read.
The group is also calling for a 50 per cent reduction in the police budget, funds which it said should instead be invested in Black and Indigenous communities. It also called for the demilitarization of the police, emphasizing the need for “alternative community regulation” to deal with non-violent calls.
Meanwhile, as the Coalition for BIPOC Liberation stands by the toppling of the statue, multiple politicians have spoken out against the destruction of the statue. Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante condemned the latest act involving the often-vandalized statue on Saturday, saying that such gestures “cannot be accepted or tolerated.”
“We know that certain historical monuments, here and elsewhere, are at the heart of emotional debate. I reiterate that I prefer to put them in context rather than simply removing them,” Plante said. “I am also in favour of adding monuments that will be more representative of the society to which we all aspire.”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole also took to Twitter to express his displeasure with the toppling of the statue, claiming that Canada “wouldn’t exist” without Macdonald.
“Canada is a great country, and one we should be proud of. We will not build a better future by defacing our past,” O’Toole tweeted on Saturday.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney echoed O’Toole while invoking a term that many have referred to as racially charged, saying on Twitter that “it is wrong to allow roving bands of thugs to vandalize our history with impunity.”
Kenney also offered to re-home the statue on the grounds of the Alberta legislature, should Montreal opt not to restore it in its original location.
NDP Leader Jagmeet took a different tone in the wake of the statue’s toppling, noting on Twitter Sunday that, while Macdonald was Canada’s first prime minister, he was also “a key figure in the attempt to brutally wipe out Indigenous peoples.”