Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth says officers are investigating after the head of a Queen Victoria statue at the Manitoba Legislative grounds was removed and thrown in the Assiniboine River.
The statue was further vandalized after a small crowd pulled it and a smaller statue of Queen Elizabeth down at the end of the Every Child Matters walk on July 1.
Smyth says the rally was largely peaceful and the vast majority of those in the crowd weren’t involved.
“I’m disappointed. I know the intent of all the organizers involved was to have a peaceful demonstration, a show of solidarity … for the lost children of the residential schools. I don’t think anyone expected that to occur,” he said in a news conference on Friday.
The walk on Canada Day was held to protest the country’s treatment of Indigenous people under the colonial system — and in particular the system that forced children to leave their families and attend residential schools, where abuse was common and many died.
Police didn’t intervene when the statues were being toppled by a small group of people so as not to incite the crowd, Smyth said.
“Whenever you have a gathering crowd of more than a thousand people, it’s a delicate situation … it’s a judgment call based on what’s happening. There was no violence going on against other people,” he said.
“It’s a judgment call I support.”
Police will use security footage to investigate those who were involved as well as the small number of people who spat on officers and threw rocks and paint at police vehicles, Smyth said.
The statue of Victoria, first unveiled in 1904, was left covered with a Canadian flag, and the words “We were children” were written on it in black marker, referencing children who died in residential schools.
Sometime between Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, the head of the Victoria statue was taken off and dumped in the river.
Smyth said a 51-year-old man was arrested on site at the end of the afternoon on Thursday after most people had left and charged with mischief for allegedly damaging a vehicle in the area and assaulting a peace officer.
Police don’t believe he was involved in pulling down the statues.
CBC News journalists saw police shock a man with a stun gun before he was arrested, while some onlookers lobbed objects at officers and yelled profanities. Police didn’t say whether the arrest is the same one Smyth discussed at the news conference.
The crowd was largely peaceful before the arrest, but police had to push a throng back to take the man into custody.
Premier Brian Pallister had a scathing rebuke for those who took down the statues, calling it “a major setback” for reconciliation in a statement on Friday.
“The actions by individuals to vandalize public property at the Manitoba Legislative Building July 1 are unacceptable. They are a major setback for those who are working toward real reconciliation and do nothing to advance this important goal,” he said.
“Those who commit acts of violence will be pursued actively in the courts. All leaders in Manitoba must strongly condemn acts of violence and vandalism, and at the same time, we must come together to meaningfully advance reconciliation.”
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