Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has condemned the toppling of a statue of Canada's first prime minister in Montreal by anti-racism activists, saying a focus on improving society today, and not historical wrongs, will best advance the fight for equality.
John A Macdonald was Canada’s PM for 19 years between 1867 and 1890, and has been applauded by historians for nation building but also criticised for the forced assimilation of indigenous peoples, described in a 2015 commission's report as “cultural genocide”.
His bronze likeness, erected in the downtown Montreal park in 1895, has often been targeted by vandals over the years, but on Saturday a group of hundreds protesting against racism and police brutality tore the statue off its pedestal and decapitated it.
Trudeau told a news conference he was "deeply disappointed by the vandalism” and said he recognised the frustrations of Canadians over the slow pace of addressing systemic discrimination and racism in society, which his liberal administration has vowed to tackle.
He said: "But we are a country of laws. And we are a country that needs to respect those laws even as we seek to improve and change them, and that those kinds of acts of vandalism are not advancing the path towards greater justice and equality in this country."
The destruction of the monument provoked a flurry of angry reactions, including from the premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney, who offered a new home for it in the western province, as well as nods to the protestors from many who view it harshly as a reminder of Canada's colonialist past.