Racist posters ap­pear in Mid­town

Lo­cals re­act to It’s OK To Be White signs in Lea­side & the An­nex

Annex Post - - NEWS - — Marika Washchyshyn

Posters be­lieved to be linked to a white na­tion­al­ist group sur­faced in two Mid­town neigh­bour­hoods last month, wor­ry­ing res­i­dents.

Plain papers with the mes­sage “It’s Ok To Be White” sparked dif­fi­cult dis­cus­sions about in­clu­siv­ity and safety in Lea­side. The posters seem to have orig­i­nated on the on­line mes­sag­ing board 4Chan, with an anony­mous user lo­cated in Canada pro­vid­ing oth­ers with a down­load­able link to the posters.

Res­i­dents said posters were found all over the neigh­bour­hood, in­clud­ing on lamp­posts on Laird Drive and Rum­sey Road, Eglin­ton Av­enue East and Bess­bor­ough Drive. Some ap­peared near lo­cal pub­lic schools.

“Non-white kids don’t need to see that bulls*** in their neigh­bour­hood,” said a Lea­side mother who took down more than 20 posters in Novem­ber. For the sake of her 12-year-old daugh­ter who is bira­cial, the woman re­quested anonymity. “My daugh­ter al­ready feels dif­fer­ent here,” she said. “She doesn’t need that re­in­forced.”

Mem­bers of a closed Lea­side Face­book group had dif­fer­ent sug­ges­tions for how to deal with the is­sue. Most said they started to take them down them­selves. Some sug­gested start­ing a coun­ter­cam­paign about in­clu­siv­ity. Still oth­ers urged res­i­dents to con­tact the City of Toronto and po­lice.

Toronto Po­lice Ser­vice, 53 Di­vi­sion’s com­mu­nity re­sponse unit had re­ceived no for­mal com­plaints about the posters. When reached for com­ment, Staff Sgt. James Ho­gan said, based on prece­dent, the posters didn’t cross the thresh­old for hate speech.

But enough peo­ple in the Face­book group seemed both­ered by the ap­pear­ance of the posters.

Lea­side res­i­dent Michelle Pap­pas said she now checks ev­ery poster she walks by but isn’t sure how much of the on­line chat­ter will turn into ac­tion.

“Once it’s gone, it’s kind of out of sight, out of mind. Which is un­for­tu­nate be­cause I think it’s still go­ing to be a prob­lem,” Pap­pas said. “It’s a quiet com­mu­nity. Peo­ple are will­ing to say what they want in a Face­book group but maybe not [to] some­body’s face. If they saw some­one putting up the sign, would they say any­thing?”

The “It’s Ok To Be White” mes­sag­ing was also found on cam­pus at the Univer­sity of Toronto the same week. City coun­cil­lors Jon Burn­side (Don Val­ley West) and Joe Cressy (Trin­ity-Spad­ina) did not re­turn re­quests for com­ment on this story.

“It’s Ok To Be White” is known in ac­tivism cir­cles as a tac­tic used by white su­prem­a­cists to pro­voke and draw out mod­er­ate racism and to pro­mote the white geno­cide con­spir­acy the­ory. Alex Hun­dert, an ac­tivist and for­mer res­i­dent of St. Clair Av­enue West, said it’s the growth of this mod­er­ate racism that’s “frus­trat­ing, scary and sad, all at once.” Hun­dert, a grad­u­ate stu­dent at Queen’s Univer­sity, re­mem­bers neo-Nazi move­ments of this sort in his old neigh­bour­hood in the 1990s. He said the uptick in racist sen­ti­ment in Canada is a re­sult of a global move­ment.

“This is be­ing done by ex­plicit racists with the pur­pose of build­ing this racist move­ment,” Hun­dert said. “Whether or not they are tech­ni­cally Nazis or white su­prem­a­cists is not im­por­tant be­cause they are func­tion­ally in­dis­tin­guish­able.”

De­spite talk, lit­tle phys­i­cal or­ga­niz­ing has come out of the Lea­side group, save for the in­di­vid­ual pulling of posters.

“I don’t think peo­ple know what to do,” Pap­pas said. She ac­knowl­edged she could have been the one to start a group ef­fort but stopped short of or­ga­niz­ing. “I didn’t know how bad the sit­u­a­tion was. You never think things like this are go­ing to hap­pen in your neigh­bour­hood.”

But for the mother wor­ried about her daugh­ter’s safety, it’s hap­pen­ing ev­ery­where and she hopes more will be done.

“I would like to feel good about know­ing that my neigh­bours would look out for my kid,” she said. “I won­der if she is safe here .… Now I’m not so sure. It’s one thing to chit-chat on­line, and it’s another to ac­tu­ally do some­thing.”

The signs were put up on the Univer­sity of Toronto cam­pus and in the An­nex

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