A statue of Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir John Macdonald was toppled in downtown Montreal by protesters marching in support of defunding the police, government officials have said.
The incident occurred at the end of a peaceful march on Saturday when a group of people climbed the monument and pulled down the statue, causing the head to fly off, video footage posted on social media showed.
Calls to defund the police have been growing across the United States and Canada in recent months, after a spate of violent incidents involving police.
— Nore (@noreornot) August 29, 2020
The death of George Floyd, a Black man, while in the custody of Minneapolis police in May sparked global protests about racial inequality and police brutality, and renewed pledges from some to fight racism.
In June, a video showing a forceful arrest of a Canadian Indigenous leader by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police raised further questions about the use of force by the police.
The statue of Macdonald, who first became prime minister in 1867, has been the site of repeated acts of graffiti in recent years and it has often been covered in red paint.
Activists have criticised some of the former prime minister’s actions and policies, including the residential school system, under which tens of thousands of Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and sent to state-funded boarding schools.
Canadian broadcaster CBC reported that a demonstrator distributed a leaflet explaining the action.
“Sir John A. Macdonald was a white supremacist who orchestrated the genocide of Indigenous peoples with the creation of the brutal residential schools system, as well as promoting other measures that attacked Indigenous peoples and traditions,” the leaflet read, according to CBC.
Saturday’s incident drew quick condemnation from political leaders.
“Whatever one might think of John A. Macdonald, destroying a monument in this way is unacceptable,” Quebec Premier Francois Legault said in a tweet. “We must fight racism, but destroying parts of our history is not the solution.”
Newly elected leader of Canada’s main opposition Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole, said: “We will not build a better future by defacing our past.”
Al Jazeera and news agencies