Hate speech

Racist graffiti left on Quebec overpass for over a month after it was reported

Activist drove from Montreal to remove the swastikas himself
Corey Fleischer of Erasing Hate removing graffiti from an overpass near Thurso, Quebec. Photo by Josée Cyr-Charlebois.
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Three swastikas spray painted onto a highway overpass in Quebec were finally removed thanks to a volunteer, more than a month after being reported to police and the province.

Josée Cyr-Charlebois spotted the graffiti while driving on Highway 50 near Thurso and told both the Sûreté du Québec and Quebec's Ministry of Transport on July 21.

But nothing happened.

‘Provincial governmental bodies were doing nothing’

She called again a couple weeks later, then contacted CBC and Radio-Canada. She even wrote to her federal and provincial elected representatives, MP Stéphane Lauzon and MNA Alexandre Iracà. She says they have yet to respond to her.

Josée Cyr-Charlebois wants a policy mandating the prompt removal of hate graffiti.

“When I first saw the graffiti, the reaction was visceral,” Cyr-Charlebois told Ricochet. “To see such a symbol of hate in my regional municipality was a shock. Reading and worrying a lot about the rise of right-wing radicalism, xenophobia and misogyny, it really hit me hard.”

Cyr-Charlebois, who is white, also had concerns about what leaving the graffiti up would teach her children.

“I talk a lot to my white boy children about their privilege and responsibility as white kids in this country so it angered me to tears that our provincial governmental bodies were doing nothing about this after it had been reported to them,” she said.

“The state’s complacency around this forced me to ask myself hard questions about where we are. Leaving a violent message up for all to see — for all 16,000 cars passing by that overpass daily to see — is violence. I really felt as though I was the only one who cared.”

She had hoped the lesson for her children would be "when we see hate and injustice, we call it out and it will be fixed."

‘Something that needs to be dealt with right away’

When Corey Fleischer heard about the swastikas, he drove for about two hours from Montreal to get rid of them.

“This is the sort of thing that shouldn’t be left on for a day,” he says in a Facebook video showing the graffiti removal. “This is something that needs to be dealt with right away.”

Fleischer is the founder of Erasing Hate, a group that eliminates hate graffiti, free of charge.

He says that the longer graffiti is left to sit, the harder it is to deal with.

“If you guys see any hate, you don’t have to wait a month, you don’t have to wait a week, you reach out to Erasing Hate,” says Fleischer in the video. “Same day it’ll be gone.”

Quick removal procedures needed

Cyr-Charlebois is grateful that someone recognized the urgency of the situation and took action.

“Learning that there are good people out there who make it their duty to fight injustice when our political systems fail is a pretty solid lesson” for her children, she said, adding that her oldest child was excited to gift Fleischer some products from the family’s farm.

But the question of why no procedure is in place to promptly clean hate graffiti remains. The Ministry of Transport told CBC that police must complete a report on any potential hate crime before the graffiti is removed.

But according to Cyr-Charlebois, she was told twice by the Sûreté du Québec that they did not know the Ministry of Transport’s process to remove graffiti.

“It sounds a great deal like one department trying to pass the buck, the hot potato, to another department.”

She worries what message the delay sent to those who saw the swastikas on the overpass each day.

“I’m just trying to figure out how to advocate for a policy that makes the very quick removal of hate graffiti mandatory,” she said.

“Not only because leaving it up is socially dangerous but because the longer it’s up, the higher the likelihood that the outline of the symbol or text will always be somewhat visible.”

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