TORONTO — Three people were charged with mischief on Saturday after allegedly throwing paint on statues in Toronto.
Toronto police allege a man and two women vandalized a statue of Egerton Ryerson on the campus of Ryerson University on Saturday morning.
They allege one of the women then vandalized a statue of the first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, outside of Queen’s Park.
Police say they then found the two other suspects in a van, covered in paint.
They say they 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 mischief under $5,000 and conspiracy to commit a summary offence.
The incidents happened during a protest against police violence and anti-Black racism.
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.
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.”