The group described the defacing of statues of former prime minister John A. Macdonald, King Edward VII Equestrian and Egerton Ryerson as an artistic disruption.
“Along with a coalition of artists, the group artistically disrupted statues of slaveholders and monuments to colonialism at Ryerson University and at Queen’s Park,” the group said in a statement.
“The action comes after the City of Toronto and the Province of Ontario have failed to take action against police violence against Black people.”
The two women, 35 and 47, and one man, 35, all of Toronto, have all been charged with three counts of mischief under $5,000 and conspiracy to commit a summary offence, according to Toronto police.
The 47-year-old woman and 35-year-old man have been released on a promise to appear, while the 35-year-old woman is being held for a show cause hearing. She is due to appear in a Toronto court at Old City Hall on Sunday.
Const. Alex Li, spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service, said the 35-year-old woman will be held overnight because she did not meet the conditions for release. He said the three counts of mischief refer to three separate incidents.
In a news release on Saturday, police said all three were provided access to legal counsel.
‘This is a really serious miscalculation’
But Saron Gebresellassi, lawyer for one of the three, said she waited to speak to her client for more than three hours after the arrests were made and didn’t know where the three were processed.
“This is a really serious miscalculation. This is a misstep in this climate,” she said. “Canadians are tired of this ongoing battle. This is not the way to work with young people and to work with Canadian leaders.”
The arrests came after Black Lives Matter Toronto held a rally and march on Saturday morning.
According to police, a man and two women were observed vandalizing a stature and surrounding concrete embankments in the area of Bond and Gould Streets, and then left the area.
Police were called at about 9:20 a.m. and located a van at Queen’s Park. Police said a woman got out of the van, carrying tubs of paint, and she joined a crowd of people. A man and a woman were found in the van and they were covered in paint. All three were arrested.
Following the arrests, activists demonstrated for hours outside Toronto police’s 52 Division, where they believed those arrested were taken for processing.
Const. Edward Parks of the Toronto police said: “When they are arrested, they are brought to the station. They are presented, they will get their paperwork, they will get their release paperwork, then they will be released. They are not in any danger whatsoever.”
Outside of 52 Division, protesters chanted “Black lives, they matter here!” and “Hey hey, ho ho, these racist cops have got to go!”
Ravyn Wngz, a Black Lives Matter Toronto organizer, told reporters at the protest that activists have been fighting for years for change and an end to anti-Black racism.
“We’re sending a message that this is the beginning. This is the beginning of the end. We are finished with reform. We are done with piecemeal ways of trying to appease us. We are sick of city councillors not recognizing or representing us. We want change and we need it. Our people are dying,” Wngz said.
Wngz said the monuments that were spray painted represent white supremacy.
Council not acting against police violence, activists say
According to Black Lives Matter Toronto, the city spends $1.13 billion a year on policing, or 25 per cent of taxpayer dollars.
Rodney Diverlus, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, said some American cities, including Minneapolis, Oakland and Seattle, are taking action in response to demands from citizens in the wake of police violence, but Toronto has not.
Diverlus pointed out that Black people are nearly 20 times more likely to be shot and killed by police in Toronto.
Several recent incidents, including the conviction of Const. Michael Theriault in the assault of Dafonte Miller and the suspension of five Toronto police officers in connection with an alleged scheme involving the tow truck industry, suggest there is corruption, he said.
“How much more corruption do you need to take action? The police are beyond reform, and the time has come to defund,” Diverlus said.
At the protest, Diverlus said the protesters should not have been arrested.
“Protesters should not be charged for protesting. This was a peaceful protest. No harm was done to anybody. What is the priority? Our conversation is about saving lives. I believe lives matter more than property,” Diverlus said.
“More cops were out trying to protect a statue than are out protecting Black and Indigenous lives and that’s a shame.”
Monuments ‘glorify the ugliest parts’ of history, BLM says
Syrus Marcus Ware, an organizer for Black Lives Matter Toronto, said: “Much like the institution of the police, these statues are monuments that glorify the ugliest parts of our history and our present.”
Words are not enough to ensure Black lives matter, Ware said.
“Let’s refuse to honour colonialism, anti-Blackness, and white supremacy. Let’s tear down monuments to anti-Blackness and colonialism, including the police system. Let’s build a society that truly values safety for all of us,” Ware said.
Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, is seen as the architect of Canada’s Indian residential school system, where thousands of Indigenous children died and many others were abused.
Egerton Ryerson, a public education advocate and a prominent figure in education and politics in Ontario in the 19th century, has also been criticized for his involvement in the creation of residential schools. Ryerson University is named after him.