TORONTO — Three protesters were charged with mischief on Saturday after supporters of Black Lives Matter threw paint on several statues, including one of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, and called for the defunding of police.
The protesters, who had marched on the Ontario legislature from Ryerson University, where a statue of public education activist Egerton Ryerson had been similarly defaced, then moved to a police detachment to denounce racism and demand those arrested be freed.
A handful of officers outside downtown 52 Division kept an eye on the demonstrators as they milled quietly about, munched on pizza, or chanted “Black Lives Matter here!” in the fierce sunshine.
Toronto police alleged a man and two women vandalized the statue on the Ryerson campus before moving on to one at Queen’s Park. They said officers found two of the accused in a van, covered in paint.
They said officers seized tubs of paint, spray paint, sidewalk chalk, stencils and rope from the van.
A 35-year-old man, a 47-year-old woman and a 35-year-old woman have all been charged with three counts of mischief under $5,000 and conspiracy to commit a summary offence.
Sporting a bright pink megaphone, Rodney Diverlus, co-founder of the group in Toronto, said people had come out for an “art-based demonstration.” The aim, he said, was to make a point about racism and police violence.
Anyone angered by the defacing of public monuments was misguided, he said.
“Symbols remain in our city that remind us of white supremacy and anti-Black racism,” Diverlus said in an interview. “If people care more about statues than they care about lives, then I would ask them to question their priorities.”
Instead of listening to calls for change, Diverlus said, police had arrested what he said were three peaceful protesters. The demonstrators would remain outside the police station as long as the trio were in custody, he said.
Lawyer Saron Gebresellassi tweeted early Sunday morning that all three detainees had been released and were scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 30.
The defunding cause erupted across North America after a police officer in Minneapolis on May 25 killed a Black man, George Floyd, by kneeling on his neck while colleagues watched. Since then, scores of cities around the globe have seen protesters denounce racism and police brutality against various minorities.
“Nine Black, Indigenous and racialized people have died in interactions with the police in Canada in the last month alone,” Diverlus said. “We’re out here having a conversation about lives. We’re here talking about police violence against Black and Indigenous communities, we’re here to talk about how disproportionately we’re impacted by violence.”
Diverlus said none of the protesters posed any danger to anyone and there was no need to arrest or charge them. At the same time, he said the protesters were not anti-police.
“I’d rather not be out here screaming, defending my life,” he said. “Lives are always inherently more valuable than property.”
Saturday’s protest followed dozens of submissions over the past week to the Toronto Police Services Board in which people called for the defunding of police.
There have also been renewed efforts to remove or rename monuments to historical figures involved in the oppression of Black and Indigenous people, both at home and abroad.
Last month, protesters in Bristol, England, toppled the statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston, rolled it to the harbour and plunged it into the sea.
But protests against such monuments in Canada are not new.
Both Macdonald and Ryerson have been on the receiving end of such movements before, with activists arguing that the historical figures were architects of the residential school system that separated Indigenous children from their families and are undeserving of reverence.
Saturday’s protest saw both statues splashed with bright pink paint and draped with a sign that reads “Tear down monuments that represent slavery, colonialism and violence.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 18, 2020.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press