Many cities have dismissed the events of Canada Day as the scandal surrounding Indigenous children led them to confront their colonial history.
Protesters in the Canadian city of Winnipeg have killed statues of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II in the face of growing anger over the discovery of the remains of hundreds of children in unmarked graves in ancient Indigenous schools.
Crowds sang “not proud of the genocide” before pulling out statues of monarchs on Canada Day on Thursday, when festivals are traditionally held across the country.
This year, however, several cities have ruled out events since the scandal over Indigenous children has caused Canadians to confront their colonial history. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the day will be “a time for reflection”.
The hashtag #CancelCanadaDay was on trend on social media, and demonstrations in support of the indigenous community were held across the country.
Nearly 1,000 unmarked graves have been found in former residential schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan that were run primarily by the Catholic Church and funded by the government.
For 165 years and until 1996, schools forcibly separated indigenous children from their families, subjecting them to malnutrition and physical and sexual abuse in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called “cultural genocide” in 2015.
In Winnipeg, a crowd cheered when the statue of Queen Victoria fell outside the Manitoba provincial legislature. Protesters, many of whom were wearing orange robes, also kicked the fallen statue and danced around it. The pedestal and statue were painted in red paint marks.
A nearby statue of Queen Elizabeth was also erected. He was the current head of state of Canada, while Victoria reigned from 1837 to 1901 when Canada was part of the British Empire.
Protests in favor of Indigenous children have also taken place in Toronto, Canada’s financial center, while a #CancelCanadaDay march in the capital, Ottawa, has attracted thousands in support of the victims and survivors of the residential school system.
Vigils and demonstrations were held in other parts of the country. Many participants wore an orange dress, which became the symbol of the movement.
The Canadian flag on the Peace Tower in Ottawa has been hoisted at half-staff to honor Indigenous children, as has the flag on the central tower of the Quebec National Assembly.
“This year, the tragic history of residential schools has overshadowed Canada’s holidays,” said Francois Legault, Quebec’s prime minister.
In his Canada Day message, Trudeau said the findings of the remains of children in old schools “have helped us to reflect on the historical failures of our country.” Injustices still exist for Indigenous peoples and many others in Canada, he added.