Winnipeg police investigating toppling of queen statues at legislature

After the statues were pulled down on Thursday during a walk to remember Indigenous children who died at residential schools, the head of a Queen Victoria statue was removed and thrown in the Assiniboine River.

Head of Queen Victoria statue removed and thrown in river

The statue of Queen Victoria lies on the ground with its head removed in front of the Manitoba Legislature. The head was thrown in the Assiniboine River. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth says officers are investigating after two statues of queens on the grounds of Manitoba's Legislature were pulled down on Thursday during a walk to remember Indigenous children who died at residential schools.

Smyth said 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 at a news conference on Friday.

The prominent Queen Victoria statue and a smaller statue of Queen Elizabeth were pulled down at the end of the Every Child Matters walk on July 1.

On Friday it was discovered that the Queen Victoria statue had been further vandalized, with its head removed and thrown in the Assiniboine River.

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.

The head of a statue is seen in a river, just part of the forehead and nose and cheekbone sticking above the surface.
The head of the Queen Victoria statue that used to stand outside the Manitoba Legislature was thrown in the Assiniboine River. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

"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.

A sign leans against the pedestal where the Queen Victoria statue stood that says, 'We were children once. Bring them home.' (Travis Golby/CBC)

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, referring to 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 with assaulting a peace officer.

Police don't believe he was involved in pulling down the statues.

Head of Queen Victoria statue recovered in river

2 years ago
Duration 3:46
Featured VideoThe head of the Queen Victoria statue from outside the Manitoba Legislature has been recovered. Someone removed it overnight and threw it into the river. The statue itself was toppled earlier Thursday following two peaceful walks to honour children who died in residential schools.

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."

Pimicikamak chief responds

The chief of Pimicikamak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba called for understanding after the crowd spray-painted and pulled down the statues on Thursday.

Members of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) said while they don't condone violence, they understand the reasons why the statues were pulled down, as well as the tensions that arose between people attending the rally and police.

People celebrate after a statue of Queen Victoria was toppled on the legislative grounds in Winnipeg on Thursday. (Travis Golby/CBC)

"I will not condemn the people, as they are hurt mentally and emotionally, because the truth that came out is hurtful and damaging," said Chief David Monias of Pimicikamak in an MKO news release on Friday.

"Destruction of material things is nothing compared to the deliberate destruction of life and culture.... Material things are replaceable, but lives aren't."

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak was one of a few agencies involved in different walks that started at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and ended at Peguis First Nation's urban reserve on Portage Avenue at Dominion Street. Participants in that walk, called No Pride in Genocide, were not involved in pulling down the statues at the Manitoba Legislature, a news release from MKO says.

Police arrest a man at the Manitoba Legislature on Thursday, not long after a monument to Queen Victoria was toppled by a crowd. The circumstances of the arrest are unclear. (Travis Golby/CBC )

Treaty One Nation, which is made up of the seven First Nations that are signatories to Treaty 1 and was also involved in organizing No Pride in Genocide, distanced itself from the events at the legislature.

"We are committed to holding peaceful demonstrations and actions, and we thank all of our participants for their co-operation and participation in this important walk for [Indian residential school] awareness," the organization said in a news release.

A deputy spokesperson for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his government condemns the vandalism of statues of the Queen.

"Our thoughts are with Canada's Indigenous community following these tragic discoveries, and we follow these issues closely and continue to engage with the government of Canada on Indigenous matters," he said.

Buckingham Palace said it would not comment.

WATCH | Winnipeg police provide update on vandalism at legislature: 

Winnipeg police provide update on vandalism at legislature

2 years ago
Duration 15:56
Featured VideoWinnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth spoke to the media regarding the vandalism of two statues on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature on Canada Day.

With files from Marina von Stackleberg