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Workers remove red paint from a Sir John A. Macdonald statue in Charlottetown on June 19, 2020.

John Morris/The Canadian Press

A statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in Prince Edward Island was doused in red paint Friday, the latest in a series of defaced sculptures and monuments depicting historical figures across Canada with ties to racist elements of Canada’s past.

Charlottetown Police Services is now investigating the incident, which occurred sometime overnight Friday.

Charlottetown Mayor Philip Brown denounced it as an act of vandalism while also acknowledging an ongoing debate brewing within the city about whether the statue should be removed.

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“This is a public piece of art and I know it’s representing Sir John A. Macdonald, but it’s public property,” Mr. Brown said.

He said his office has been inundated with e-mails and messages discussing the merits of removing the statue ever since a crowd of thousands marched in an anti-Black racism protest in Charlottetown earlier this month.

Macdonald’s role in the creation of residential schools, where thousands of Indigenous children were forcibly placed, abused and even died – is sparking calls for the sculpture in the P.E.I. capital to be removed.

In 2018, Victoria city council removed a statue of Macdonald that stood outside city hall, and has had multiple public meetings since to discuss what to do with the statue, which for now remains in storage.

A Charlottetown city committee is now studying the issue to determine if it should go or, if it does stay, whether more information could be added to a plaque to include details about the Macdonald government’s controversial relationship with Indigenous peoples.

Mr. Brown says he favours this route, citing former Truth and Reconciliation Commission chairman Murray Sinclair, who told the Canadian Press in 2017 tearing down tributes to historical figures would be “counterproductive” to reconciliation efforts between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

“I’m an educator, I taught for 30 years and I believe education is power. And when you empower people with knowledge then you make a better society for it,” Mr. Brown said.

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Statues and monuments of historical figures across the world are being vandalized and torn down in the wake of protests against anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, and similar incidents in Canada are mounting.

Earlier this week in Vancouver, a statue of John Deighton, known as “Gassy Jack,” was also doused with red paint. Deighton was a 19th-century bar owner for whom the Vancouver neighbourhood of Gastown was named. His marriage to a 12-year-old Squamish girl has led to calls for the statue’s removal.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday he acknowledges that Canada has made many mistakes in the past and that those mistakes continue today with entrenched racism in policing agencies and public institutions.

He promised to take “concrete measures” to improve these systems but steered clear of saying what specific statues or monuments should be taken down.

“Obviously, there are many conversations going on around names of sports teams, around statues, around the way we commemorate historical figures and those conversations are going to be important and need to continue,” he said.

“We encourage those conversations to be had.”

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In 2017, Mr. Trudeau renamed the former Langevin Block building, which sits across from Parliament Hill and houses the Prime Minister’s Office, arguing at the time that keeping the name of Sir Hector-Louis Langevin – who was associated with the residential school system – on the building clashed with his government’s vision.

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