MONTREAL — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday he's "profoundly disappointed" in the vandals who toppled and defaced a Montreal statue of the first prime minister of Canada, as Quebec's premier promised the monument would be restored.
Trudeau told reporters in Montreal he understands the impatience of Canadians who want to see more action on racism and systemic discrimination, but said the vandalism that occurred over the weekend is not an acceptable way to express those views.
"We are a country of laws and we as a country need to respect those laws even as we seek to improve and change them," he said. "Those kinds of acts of vandalism are not advancing the path towards greater justice and equality in this country."
Montreal police said the vandals threw a rope around the sculpture of John A. Macdonald and sent it crashing to the ground, causing its head to roll off.
Police had originally said the vandals had unbolted the statue, but spokesman Jean-Pierre Brabant said Monday that their investigation revealed the statue had not been bolted to the pedestal. It was toppled and sprayed with graffiti at the end of a protest demanding cities cut police budgets.
The statue had repeatedly been vandalized in the past by critics who cite Macdonald's role in establishing the residential school system, as well as his racist comments about Indigenous peoples.
The towering bronze-and-granite statue, which was created by British artist George Edward Wade and erected in 1895, is among the most "imposing and elaborate" monuments to Canada's first prime minister, according to the city's website.
Trudeau said Canadian society has work to do in combating systemic discrimination, and should debate the actions of past leaders and the future of monuments honouring them.
"He was our first prime minister and we have to recognize his role in the creation of the country and the world we live in, but we have to recognize where there were statements, perspectives or acts that were unacceptable," Trudeau said.
But he said the decision on how to move forward needs to be made collectively, and not by a small group acting illegally.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault also condemned the vandalism Monday, telling reporters the statue would be repaired and put back.
"Of course, we need to fight against racism, but that's not the way to do it," Legault said. "We have to respect the history."
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante has said the city's public art department will oversee the restoration of the sculpture.
Brabant said no arrests have been made, but police were checking video footage in the hopes of identifying the perpetrators.
He said while police were on the scene when the statue was toppled, they did not intervene. "Because it was done as quickly as it was, we were able to react to the mischief but not prevent the mischief," he said in a phone interview.
Brabant said the officers were unable to catch the perpetrators, who disappeared into the crowd of demonstrators leaving the protest.
The vandals, if found, could be charged with mischief, he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2020.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press