No charges for Canada Day toppling of statues

No charges will be laid in connection to the toppling of statues or organization of the protests at the Manitoba Legislative Building grounds on Canada Day 2021.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/02/2022 (364 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

No charges will be laid in connection to the toppling of statues or organization of the protests at the Manitoba Legislative Building grounds on Canada Day 2021.

Manitoba Justice confirmed the information late Monday.

Two statues of English monarchs were damaged on an emotionally-charged July 1, during demonstrations in the wake of the discovery of potential unmarked graves at former Indian residential school sites.

A group using ropes pulled the larger-than-life statue of Queen Victoria off its base. Its head was removed and later found in the Assiniboine River.

The Queen Elizabeth II statue outside nearby Government House was also tipped over, landing face-down.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS FILESDays after the incident, then-justice minister Cameron Friesen said: "Make no mistake: those efforts underway to investigate are important and those responsible for acts of violence and destruction will be held accountable."

Days after the incident, then-justice minister Cameron Friesen said: “Make no mistake: those efforts underway to investigate are important and those responsible for acts of violence and destruction will be held accountable.”

While Indigenous leaders said they didn’t condone acts of vandalism or violence, news no one will face criminal charges for the incident was welcomed.

“We are sure there was a lot of thought and consideration put into looking at the events that took place and the emotions that were running high at the time,” Manitoba Métis Federation spokesperson Kat Patenaude said Monday.

“It’s important to reflect on the pain and anguish that led to the statues being pulled down, and recognize the harms done by the residential and day school system.”

On Monday, before learning no charges would be laid, Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said it’s important to “keep things in context.”

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS FILESOn Monday, before learning no charges would be laid, Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said it’s important to "keep things in context."

“It was an emotionally charged day,” the grand chief said. He could not be reached for further comment.

Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen reissued a statement he provided last week, when asked if he thought charges should be laid in connection to the statues being vandalized.

“The ability to peacefully protest or demonstrate is important in a free and democratic society… The exercise of that democratic expression, however, comes with its own expectations by society, including respecting the rights and safety of others. Where there is either violence or property destruction in a protest or demonstration, those are rightfully investigated by the appropriate law enforcement. They then exercise their discretion based on evidence, whether legal action can or should be taken by way of laying a charge.”

SEAN KILPATRICK / CANADIAN PRESS FILESLast week, Portage—Lisgar MP Candice Bergen (now interim Conservative party leader) likened the Indigenous protesters who toppled the statues to protesters in downtown Ottawa waving swastikas and desecrating the National War Memorial.

Last week, Portage—Lisgar MP Candice Bergen (now interim Conservative party leader) likened the Indigenous protesters who toppled the statues to protesters in downtown Ottawa waving swastikas and desecrating the National War Memorial.

The Manitoba legislature’s damaged monuments have been removed to an undisclosed location. Seven months after they were toppled, the provincial government hasn’t yet decided what to do with them.

“We are reviewing the options for repair and the potential for placement of the monuments,” said the press secretary for Reg Helwer, minister for labour, consumer protection and government services.

The government couldn’t point to any progress on the file since October, when it said it was exploring repair and costing options but hadn’t made a decision regarding the future of the statues.

Four months until Canada Day 2022, it’s still only considering “a process for engaging the public, First Nations and the (Manitoba Métis Federation) regarding the monuments.”

“We sort of made some efforts on our own to address the issue in a constructive way, but no one has reached out to us.” – Grand Chief Arlen Dumas

Manitoba’s most prominent Indigenous organizations say they want to be part of the process — but haven’t been asked.

“We sort of made some efforts on our own to address the issue in a constructive way, but no one has reached out to us,” said Dumas. “We have a multitude of resources; we could collaborate with the province to address this issue but they’ve not made any effort.”

The MMF said it’s also willing to weigh in.

“While we have not yet been engaged by the province, we are always willing to work in a nation-to-nation, government-to-government framework to determine a pathway forward that elevates the true history of the Red River Métis in Manitoba, while respecting all who contributed to making Canada what it is today,” Patenaude said in an email.

Manitoba historian Gordon Goldsborough said he thinks the Victoria statue should go but Elizabeth should stay.

“Frankly, I never understand why it was there in the first place, as her reign (1837-1901) was over by the time the building opened (1920).” – Manitoba historian Gordon Goldsborough on Queen Victoria’s statue

“Until our system of government changes, and the UK monarch is no longer automatically the one of Canada, too, I think a statue of the current reigning monarch is appropriate for the grounds of the legislative building,” he said.

“I would like to see the statue of Queen Elizabeth returned to its place in the gardens around Government House. That, it seems to me, is the right place for it.”

Returning Victoria to its former location would be “unnecessarily provocative,” he said. “Frankly, I never understand why it was there in the first place, as her reign (1837-1901) was over by the time the building opened (1920).”

Goldsborough said there should be a “memorial garden” established at another location, where the legacy of former monarchs can be contemplated and presented in context, with interpretive signage to go along with them.

“I don’t think we should censor or expunge symbols of our past that we now find objectionable; instead, we should use them as an opportunity for education, as a perpetual reminder of where we have come from, as a guide to seeing where we should be going, and the progress — or lack thereof — we have made in getting there.”

— with files from Dean Pritchard

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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