Toronto Star

Ac­tivist turn­ing the hose on hate

Montreal’s Corey Fleis­cher has made it his life’s work to re­move hate graf­fiti

- AL­LAN WOODS QUE­BEC BUREAU

MONTREAL— Corey Fleis­cher was driv­ing be­tween jobs in a truck that holds his power-wash­ing tools and var­i­ous jugs of chem­i­cals when he spot­ted two swastikas and the let­ters ‘KKK’ spray-painted along the side of a Montreal fruit com­pany’s de­liv­ery van.

Oth­ers in his sit­u­a­tion might have driven on, if they had even no­ticed the graf­fiti at all. He had done just that for most of his life.

But on this day, more than two years ago, Fleis­cher pulled over and asked if he could re­move the of­fen­sive sym­bols, which had ap­peared a few weeks ear­lier. The owner was re­luc­tant and said he would do it him­self — but later.

Fleis­cher, who is tall, thick with mus­cle and has a bald head, asked a few ques­tions and learned there was a de­liv­ery planned to houses in the pre­dom­i­nately Jewish neigh­bour­hood of Hamp­stead. That is when he had heard enough.

“I took my truck and bar­ri­caded him in. I wasn’t happy. I said ‘Now you’re go­ing nowhere,’ ” he re­counted.

Fleis­cher ex­plained to the driver that what he was about to do was free-of-charge. Ten min­utes later, the graf­fiti was gone.

On Dec. 5, 2014, he posted the be­fore-and-after pic­tures of the van to his Face­book and In­sta­gram ac­counts. More sig­nif­i­cantly, it was one of the first times he had gone pub­lic with his grow­ing ob­ses­sion.

Be­fore then, re­mov­ing hate­ful graf­fiti was a se­cret hobby. Since then, how­ever, he es­ti­mates hav­ing erased many hun­dreds of mark­ings.

They have tar­geted gay peo­ple and racial mi­nori­ties, they have den­i­grated Mus­lims and their re­li­gion. He has even re­moved one van­dal’s dec­la­ra­tion — in French — that “God is Dead” from the side of a his­toric Catholic church in the city.

But he says 90 per cent of his ef­forts in­volved the re­moval of swastikas and other anti-Semitic or Nazi-type graf­fiti from the walls, bridges, back al­leys, tele­phone poles, de­liv­ery vans, apart­ment build­ings and parks of Montreal.

“I’m get­ting up in the morn­ing and I’m eat­ing hate crimes for break­fast. I’m eat­ing them for lunch. I eat hate crimes for din­ner,” he said. “When I go to bed I’m dream­ing about swastikas,” he said.

His pro­file has grown in Que­bec to the point that he re­ceives nods and hand­shakes when he pulls up in his white Pro­vin­cial Power Wash­ing truck, swings open the back doors and pulls out a length of blue high­pres­sure hose that is con­nected to the 650-gal­lon wa­ter tank in­side.

He has been pro­filed by lo­cal me­dia, re­ceived com­mu­nity ser­vice awards and was even called in to brief the Montreal Po­lice Hate Crimes unit, after it was cre­ated last spring.

Now he says he is hop­ing to ex­pand what he calls his “Eras­ing Hate” move­ment to Toronto by tak­ing in re­ports of hate­ful graf­fiti in Canada’s largest city and en­sur­ing one way or an­other that it is re­moved promptly.

What drives Fleis­cher? He is Jewish, but not par­tic­u­larly re­li­gious. He pur­sued a women’s stud­ies de­gree at Brock Univer­sity in St. Catharines, Ont., but ad­mits his real pas­sion was play­ing var­sity hockey.

But he does seem to have a sin­gu­lar sense of out­rage when peo­ple are picked on or sin­gled out for their faith, sex­u­al­ity or skin colour.

Since leav­ing school, he said he had been search­ing for a larger pur­pose and it came to him the day that he spot­ted a swastika on a road­side cin­der block. He cut out of a pay­ing con­tract clean­ing a drive­way to go back and re­move it.

“It’s a eu­phoric feel­ing. It gives you goose bumps,” he said. “The feel­ing that I got re­mov­ing that hate crime was one I’ve been search­ing for my whole life.”

And like all suc­cess­ful brands, Fleis­cher’s of­fer­ing fills a gap. The Jewish ad­vo­cacy group B’nai Brith Canada has been doc­u­ment­ing an­tiSemitic in­ci­dents across Canada for decades and the Toronto po­lice force is among those that pub­lish yearly sta­tis­tics on hate-crime ac­tiv­ity, not­ing for ex­am­ple that 67 of the 145 crimes re­ported in 2016 in­volved van­dal­ism and graf­fiti to prop­erty.

But there is of­ten lit­tle ur­gency to re­move the of­fend­ing marks even though a num­ber of com­pa­nies of­fer free re­moval for hate graf­fiti. The city of Toronto has a plan stat­ing that hate and gang-re­lated graf­fiti is to be re­moved from city-owned prop­erty within 24 hours of a re­port. But pri­vate prop­erty own­ers are left on their own.

“It’s re­ally a mat­ter of him. I don’t know that many com­mu­ni­ties that have some­one that’s will­ing to get out there and do this. I’ve seen him go as far as filling ce­ment into a swastika that was in a side­walk . . . He’s re­ally a one-man show,” said Joshua Wolfe, as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of gov­ern­ment re­la­tions in Que­bec with the Cen­tre for Is­rael and Jewish Af­fairs. This week, the one-man show pulled up in his truck to a path run­ning along­side a com­muter train line that con­nects Montreal and its north­ern sub­urb, Laval. About 100 yards along the path, there was a large con­crete block that had on it two sten­cilled im­ages in red paint: one, a swastika with thick, sharp, red lines; the other, the words ‘STOP IS­LAM’ be­neath the shape of a hand.

Fleis­cher ap­plied a white-and-yel­low sludge of his own spe­cial blend of chem­i­cals to the graf­fiti with a paint brush. While wait­ing for the chem­i­cals to take ef­fect, the paint had al­ready started to dis­solve. A few close­quar­ter blasts from the power washer was all it took for all of the graf­fiti to dis­ap­pear.

All the while, Fleis­cher was count­ing how many peo­ple passed by on foot and on bi­cy­cle, hop­ing they would see what he was do­ing and be spurred to think and act in their own lives against what he said were cow­ardly big­ots and racists leav­ing their mes­sages un­der the cover of night.

 ?? AL­LAN WOODS/TORONTO STAR ?? Corey Fleis­cher, owner of a power wash­ing com­pany, is ex­tend­ing his “Eras­ing Hate” move­ment to Toronto.
AL­LAN WOODS/TORONTO STAR Corey Fleis­cher, owner of a power wash­ing com­pany, is ex­tend­ing his “Eras­ing Hate” move­ment to Toronto.

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