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3 protesters charged after statues defaced during BLM Toronto march

Last Updated Jul 19, 2020 at 9:19 am EDT

Three protesters have been charged after statues were defaced during a Black Lives Matter Toronto march calling for the defunding of the police force on Saturday.

The protesters, who had marched on the Ontario legislature from Ryerson University, had moved to 52 Division to denounce racism and demand those arrested be freed.

Police previously said two of the people arrested had been released around 5:30 p.m., but Toronto police later said they declined to sign the release forms to leave custody and “they will be released as soon as they sign, and we would like them to do so.”

Saron Gebresellassi, a Toronto lawyer who represents one of the women detained, said just before 2 a.m. that her client had been released, noting that she was being held at 55 Division – not 52 Division where the other two were being held.

Around 3 a.m. Gebresellassi announced that the remaining two people had been released, ending the hours long standoff.

A 35-year-old man, a 47-year-old woman and a 35-year-old woman, all of Toronto, have been charged with three counts of mischief under $5,000 and conspiracy to commit a summary offence.

All three are scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 30.

At the height of the tense situation, three members of provincial parliament showed up at 52 Division, including Toronto Centre MPP Suze Morrison who claimed police told her lawyers were not allowed into the building due to COVID-19.

Councillor Josh Matlow tweeted that he went down to 52 Division and said he watched as the detainee’s lawyer was denied access to her clients.

“What I witnessed today was not only a learning experience, it was deeply disturbing. This can’t go on this way. We have a responsibility to change this. We will change this. This is about a basic and reasonable expectation of justice, and access to legal representation,” read his statement on twitter.

Demonstrators hang cardboard posters on the windows of 52 Division on July 18, 2020. CITYNEWS/Hugues Cormier

The march began at Ryerson University where police allege a man and two women vandalized a statue of Egerton Ryerson, for whom the university is named after, with pink paint while a sign was affixed to it that read, “Tear down monuments that represent slavery, colonialism and violence.”

One of the women then allegedly splashed pink paint and attached similar signs to the statues of John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, and King Edward VII, both located at Queen’s Park.

Several messages were also painted in front of the statues which read “Defund, Disarm, Dismantle, Abolish” in reference to police forces across the country.

Police say they then later found two of the suspects in a van, covered in paint.

They also seized tubs of paint, spray paint, sidewalk chalk, stencils and rope from the van.

Sporting a bright pink megaphone, Rodney Diverlus, co-founder of the group in Toronto, said people had come out for an “art-based demonstration.” The aim, he said, was to make a point about racism and police violence.

Anyone angered by the defacing of public monuments was misguided, he said.

“Symbols remain in our city that remind us of white supremacy and anti-Black racism,” Diverlus said in an interview. “If people care more about statues than they care about lives, then I would ask them to question their priorities.”

Saturday’s event was held after an overwhelming number of people came forward over the past week to speak out in favour of defunding police at four separate virtual town hall meetings with the Toronto Police Services Board.

Last month, city council voted against cutting and reallocating the police budget by 10 per cent, opting instead to add money to the budget for body cameras.

Protesters have made clear they do not want body cameras on officers and there is a growing number of experts who question the effectiveness of the technology altogether.

Hundreds of activists gathered outside of police headquarters Thursday during the last of the town halls, shouting their demands to defund the police.