The John A. Macdonald monument in downtown Montreal was covered head-to-toe with what appears to be red paint early Sunday.

The vandalism took place ahead of a demonstration that saw hundreds take to the city’s streets to denounce racism and Bill 62, the province’s religious neutrality law requiring anyone receiving or providing public services to have an uncovered face.

Video posted online by a group of self-described “anti-colonial anti-racists” shows a colourful substance being sprayed onto the statue of Canada’s first prime minister at Place du Canada.

In an accompanying statement, the group said Macdonald was responsible for residential schools, measures to destroy Indigenous cultures and traditions, and the open promotion of “so-called ‘Aryan’ Canada.”

“John A. Macdonald was a white supremacist,” the statement read. “Macdonald’s statue belongs in a museum, not as a monument taking up public space in Montreal.” The video and statement were shared on the Facebook page of activist Jaggi Singh.

Andrée-Anne Picard, a spokesperson for the Montreal police, told that investigators are looking into the matter, but there are no suspects or witnesses at this time. She said police will be examining security cameras in the area for evidence.

The group said it is not affiliated with any of the 160 organizations participating in Sunday’s anti-racism demonstrations, while expressing support and solidarity with their motives.

Sunday’s protest was coordinated by various students associations, teachers’ unions, the Montreal chapter of Black Lives Matter, the Association for Progressive Jurists, the Association of Muslims, and Arabs for Secularism in Quebec.

Montreal protest

A declaration backing the protest raised concerns over the spread of xenophobic messages, and the perceived rise of groups seeking to normalize intolerance within Quebec society. The declaration cited the shooting at a Quebec City mosque last January, opposition to a Muslim cemetery in Saint-Apollinaire, and hateful sentiment towards Haitian asylum seekers.

Stacey Gomez, a community organizer with Solidarity Across Borders, said the goal of Sunday’s demonstration is to bring together a diverse cross-section of Quebecers to denounce systemic racism and the far-right. She said her group did not organize the defacing of the Macdonald statue, but she is not against it.

“It can be something that is helpful,” she told CTV Montreal, referring to the vandalism. “I think that colonial symbols are one thing we definitely need to be aware of, that they are in our community in different spaces.”

The vandalism of the Macdonald statue follows the defacement of another Montreal monument memorializing Canada’s fallen soldiers on Remembrance Day.

The words “F--k war” and “F--k the army” were written in French in red spray paint. City workers managed to remove the paint in time for the Remembrance Day procession to begin.

The group responsible for vandalizing the Macdonald statue said the action was inspired by the rallies against controversial political figures that have taken place recently in the U.S. Protesters at Sunday’s rally said they too were motivated in part by events beyond Canada borders.

In Poland, tens of thousands of nationalist demonstrators disrupted independence day events in Warsaw over the weekend. Some participants openly expressed racist and white supremacist views. One banner read, “White Europe of brotherly nations.”

Fatima Ahmad said she joined the march through downtown Montreal to raise awareness of the increasingly pervasive climate of intolerance she sees, both at home and abroad.

“I think throughout Europe and in North America there is a lot of racism that is growing,” she said. “I want to show that we are better united than divided, and there is nothing to be fearful of.”

Fatima Ahmad

As a woman who wears a niqab, a head covering that conceals the face but leaves the eyes exposed, Ahmad said she believes Bill 62 is a misguided attack on Muslim women that should never have been written into law.

“I feel targeted,” she said. “We already show our face when there is a need. People are unaware of the purpose of the niqab. I think if there was a dialogue, people will be more open to it.”

With a report from CTV Montreal’s Kelly Greig and files from The Associated Press