About 200 people marched through the rainy streets of downtown Montreal on Saturday demanding extensive cuts to police budgets and increased spending on social services.
It was one of several demonstrations held across Canada organized by a coalition of Black and Indigenous activists.
“Making this march happen is one step forward instead of staying home and doing nothing,” said Senam Messie, who helped organize the Montreal demonstration.
With chants of “No justice, no peace. Abolish the police,” the protesters attempted to show that calls to defund police departments have not subsided, three months after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
Calls to halve police budgets
The protest comes amid unrest in Kenosha, Wis., following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, on Aug. 23. Blake was shot in the back seven times as he attempted to enter his vehicle as three of his children sat inside. His family says the shooting has left him paralyzed.
But protesters say that police shootings of Black and Indigenous people in Canada also must not be ignored.
Melissa Calixte of the local community group Hoodstock pointed to the death of 58-year-old Pierre Coriolan in June 2017. Police were responding to calls about a man in distress and entered Coriolan’s apartment in Montreal’s Gay Village in an intervention that ended in a fatal shooting.
“I can’t help but wonder how the outcome would have been different had it been a mental health professional or social worker who answered that day,” Calixte said.
The coalition wants 50 per cent of police budgets to be spent on social services, such as health care and education.
John A. Macdonald statue toppled
As the march was ending at Place du Canada, a small group of demonstrators climbed on top of a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald before unbolting it and toppling it to the ground.
Banners were first erected around the statue, obscuring protesters who tied ropes around the monument. They then pulled the statue down, and its head broke off when it hit the ground.
The incident caught the other protesters, organizers and police by surprise, but no arrests were made.
The statue of Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, has been the site of repeated acts of graffiti in recent years, and it’s often been covered in red paint.