Activists in Montreal have pulled down a statue of Canada’s first prime minister Sir John A MacDonald, who was linked to cruel policies that killed many indigenous people in the late 19th Century.
Video captured the moment the statue’s head flew off and bounced on the pavement nearby.
Quebec’s head of government condemned it as “unacceptable”.
“Destroying parts of our history is not the solution,” said François Legault.
No arrests have been made, according to Canadian broadcaster CBC.
MacDonald was prime minister of Canada for 19 years in the 1860s-1890s and is remembered for his nation-building policies but he also created the residential schools system.
For more than a century the system forcibly removed at least 150,000 indigenous children from their homes and sent them to state-funded boarding schools. Many children were abused and some died, and they were were forbidden from speaking their own language or practising their culture.
A government report in 2015 called the practice “cultural genocide”.
He was accused of allowing famine and disease to kill many indigenous people and his government forced some First Nation communities to leave their traditional territories, withholding food until they did so.
Quebec Premier François Legault wrote on Twitter, “whatever one might think of John A. MacDonald, destroying a monument in this way is unacceptable. We must fight racism, but destroying parts of our history is not the solution. Vandalism has no place in our democracy and the statue must be restored.”
Earlier on Saturday a peaceful demonstration calling for defunding the police took place in central Montreal.
A leaflet distributed at the protest described John MacDonald as “a white supremacist who orchestrated the genocide of Indigenous peoples with the creation of the brutal residential schools system,” according to CBC.
It said that the city’s mayor, Valérie Plante, had been petitioned to remove the statue but due to her “inaction” a group of activists had decided to take matters into their own hands.
A number of statues of controversial historical leaders around the world have been toppled in recent months during heated public debates over how societies should remember leaders tied to slavery, empire and racism.
In the US, statues of Christopher Colombus as well as Confederate leaders were removed, while in the UK monuments to prominent slave traders have been taken down.
Belgian protesters also defaced statues of King Leopold II due to his deadly legacy in his personal colony in what is now Democratic Republic of Congo.