By Natalie Michie
On Saturday, the Egerton Ryerson statue on Gould Street was defaced by Black Lives Matter – Toronto (BLM-TO) protesters in an art-based action that called for defunding the police.
Protesters poured pink paint on the statue and put up a sign that read “Tear down monuments that represent slavery, colonialism and violence.”
Along with Ryerson’s statue, protesters also tagged the John A. Macdonald statue at Queen’s Park and the statue of King Edward VII located behind the legislative building.
These statues were targeted because they immortalize historical figures who contributed to the oppression of Black people, Indigenous people and people of colour in Canada.
King Edward VII was a British monarch in the colonial era and his statue serves as a reminder of Canada’s violent colonial past.
Both John A. Macdonald and Egerton Ryerson had a significant role in the creation of Canada’s residential school system, which targeted Indigenous children and violently removed them from their communities in an effort to assimilate them into colonial Euro-Canadian culture.
Children endured physical, mental and sexual abuse in residential schools and were punished for speaking their language and practicing traditions or ceremonies from their communities.
Residential schools in Canada operated between the 1870s and the 1990s and have resulted in intergenerational trauma that impacts Indigenous communities to this day.
The defacing of the three statues comes after worldwide protests demanding the removal of statues and symbols that enshrine systemic racism.
The call to remove the Egerton Ryerson statue has been ongoing for years within the Ryerson community, but the school has never officially agreed to remove the statue or change the name of the university.
In June, Maaz Khan, a Ryerson business technology management graduate, started a petition demanding the removal of the statue. Since then, it’s received over 9,000 signatures.
In an email to The Eyeopener on Saturday, Ryerson said that they “understand and expect disagreements” with regards to the statue. They added that they have no plans as of now to remove the statue, saying “this is a decision where we will need to engage our entire community including our students, faculty, staff and nearly 200,000 alumni.”
“I believe it is an incredibly valuable attribute of any university that controversial subjects are discussed publicly, attitudes are challenged, and alternatives are suggested and considered—sometimes this involves protests like the one we experienced this weekend,” Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi wrote in a statement Tuesday.
Lachemi added that safety can mean different things for different community members based on their lived experience, which is why it’s important “to examine, discuss and debate issues that are deeply intertwined with our individual and collective histories.”
The paint has since been washed off the statue.
At around 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, three protesters were arrested at Queen’s Park and taken into police custody. What followed was a rally outside of 52 division Toronto Police Station by protesters demanding the release of those arrested.
Rodney Diverlus, co-founder of BLM-TO and Ryerson School of Performance graduate, said in an interview with CBC that the arrests of protesters were uncalled for.
“This was a peaceful protest. No harm was done to anybody,” he said. “More cops were out trying to protect a statue than are out protecting Black and Indigenous lives and that’s a shame.”
The rally grew in numbers as the night went on and protesters refused to leave until the three arrested were released. At around 3 a.m. Sunday morning, Black Lives Matter Toronto tweeted a live video announcing that all those arrested had been released.
The protesters have been charged with three counts of mischief each and are due to appear in court September 30, police said.
On Sunday morning, BLM-TO members held a press conference in front of the defaced Egerton Ryerson statue.
Syrus Marcus Ware, an organizer with BLM-TO, said that Egerton Ryerson “brutalized Indigenous communities for generations.”
“Why would you want to keep a monument to that?” Ware said. “This is not somebody we should revere. This is not somebody we should celebrate.”
Ware added that the “biggest monument to slavery and colonialism arguably is the police and prison system.”
Former 2018 Toronto mayoral candidate Saron Gebresellassi, who is a lawyer for one of the three people who were arrested on Saturday, said she waited “on standby for over 12 hours” and that her client was “denied access to counsel” throughout the day, aside from being granted two phone calls.
In a tweet Saturday, Toronto police claimed they gave detainees access to legal counsel and that those arrested “declined to sign the release forms to leave custody.”
BLM-TO refuted these claims, with Gebresellassi noting she was not allowed to speak or consult with her client about the conditions of the release forms and that “it would be irresponsible for any Canadian to sign away their rights or to sign documents without having a phone call with a lawyer.”
In a statement Sunday, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said the claims around access to counsel and the custody of the three individuals were a “false narrative.”
BLM-TO members are calling for defunding of the police, starting immediately with a budget cut of 50 percent.
This story has been updated to include Lachemi’s comment and confirm that the paint has been washed off the Egerton Ryerson statue.
To the privileged white people that defaced these statues under the guise of Black Lives Matter, you are disgusting and cowardly.
Black people do not want this, and if they do, let US do it! Stop committing crimes where my people will be blamed.
Went to the Egerton statute the day after it was vandalized and saw a white women recording a video in support of BLM. I told her black people don’t want this and didn’t do this, she quickly responded, “All three were black”. When in fact at least 2 of the vandals were privileged white people. This is only shows how these white supporters are racist and prejudice themselves and black people will/are being blamed for the actions of this white people.
Update. One of these privileged white people is a Ryerson Prof. Truly disgusting. Black Students being looked at as criminals when in reality it is white privileged profs like Jenna Reid who are committing these crimes. WE ARE NOT THE CRIMINALS! BLACK PEOPLE DID NOT COMMIT THIS VANDALISM! WHITE PRIVILEGED PEOPLE LIKE PROF JENNA REID ARE THE TRUE CRIMINALS AND THE TRUE RACISTS. LET US SPEAK FOR OURSELVES AND COMMIT THESE ACTIONS OURSELVES.
This isn’t about the statue, remove it for all i care, but don’t be a white person and commit crimes knowing black people will be blamed for them. Jenna Reid you deserve to be fired. The unmitigated gall of Jenna Reid and other white people to co opt Black Movements is nauseating and villainous.
I agree with you 100%. The woke are pretty disgusting. Do you know what has happened to these 3 individuals, especially Jenna Reid? I would imagine that, since Ryerson University is Marxist leaning, she got a promotion? LOL
This cancel culture is BS. You cannot apply the PC culture of today to what happened in the past. If you do then Pontiac, a murderer, needs to be erased from history, as does Tcumseh as does Lois Reil and any other Indian that murderer and scalped. Leaders in this country need to stand up against this culture of cancel, which is crap. Essentially, a petty group of people, ones of little accomplishment, want to destroy because they, themselves, will amount to nothing!
Jefferson Davis served as President of the Confederate States of America from 1861 to 1865 until the collapse of the Confederacy with the end of the Civil War. Captured by Northern troops, he was jailed for two years at Fort Monroe in Virginia, then released in mid-May 1867, after posting bail. He travelled by steamer to New York, then headed to Montreal, where his family was living. Canada had allowed in many Confederate supporters, and Davis was treated as a celebrity, notwithstanding his association with slavery and the disastrous effort to make the U.S. South independent. Jefferson Davis stayed in Toronto most of the summer of 1867, and went from here to England, not returning to the United States until 1869, after the general amnesty had been declared. The house where the Confederate President stayed while he was here was at the Southeast corner of Church and Gould Streets (just east of the Egerton Ryerson statue). Most of the Southerners who came up to Toronto after the Civil War settled around the same district, Church and Gould and Wilton Avenue.