Police investigate after hate-based stickers turn up across Owen Sound
Stickers that promote “pure hate” — some with messages promoting white supremacy, patriarchy, Nazism, anti-immigration sentiment and misogyny — are showing up in public spaces across Owen Sound.
“It was true disbelief, and then when we dug into the symbolism and the meaning behind the stickers and realized that we were dealing with pure stupid hate,” explains Francesca Dobbyn, a concerned community member and executive director of Bruce Grey United Way.
“We really had to take a step back and think ‘what is going on in our community’ and ‘what can we do to stop this?’.”
Since July, Owen Sound Police Service has investigated more than a dozen incidences where hate-related stickers turned up in public spaces including Harrison Park, a popular community gathering space. They were stuck on metal poles, swings, park benches, electrical boxes and according to police, they’re turning up in different pockets of the city.
“There’s no place for this type of activity in our community and we’re very concerned about the division it could cause if it’s allowed to grow and fester,” explains Owen Sound Police Chief Craig Ambrose.
Top brass are looking into the activity which is considered mischief as there is no particular charge for a hate crime in the Criminal Code of Canada.
“It would be mischief, but certainly any type of promoting hate and things like that more often is an aggravating factor when it comes to an offense itself,” added Ambrose.
This isn’t the only hate-related incident in recent months. Just one day after the stickers began popping up around the city, a mosque was vandalized in what police believe was a hate-based crime, with the front steps, windows and parking lot covered in eggs, mustard and ketchup.
Less than a week after that incident, police arrested and charged a 22-year-old with two-counts of mischief to religious property related to the mosque and one of mischief under $5,000 in connection to vandalism at the Popeyes restaurant located in the east end of the city.
“We’re very much a welcoming community,” explains Mayor Ian Boddy.
“It definitely isn’t how Owen Sound feels and the whole community reacted immediately to say this isn’t acceptable…
“The community as a whole always comes together when something like that happens and we support each other.”
The incidents prompted community members to band together and form a grassroots group that denounces racism called, “Bruce-Grey Anti-Racism Network.” The Facebook group has over 450 followers and is led by community members who want to make a change.
“This kind of stuff is not to be tolerated and it’s got to get the heck out,” said Josh Richardson, who along with his sons, located anti-Islam and “skin-head” stickers on signs along a local trail.
“It’s evident that people are really motivated to counter this kind of stuff, that it’s not acceptable. I think the leaders in our community recognize that or should recognize that this is motivated by the people.”
The stickers are highly offensive and keep showing up at locations residents consider to be quite sacred like the cenotaph, where a white pride sticker was placed on the flag pole.
“It’s just mind-boggling that on the Canada flag at the cenotaph that someone puts on a KKK sticker,” adds Dobbyn. “You have no idea the history of what that means, what that means to our history, what that means to our veterans – I mean what is going on in your head?”
Another targeted spot has been in the area of the Black History Cairn, a memorial for the city’s first black settlers who sought freedom in Canada through the Underground Railroad.
It traces the route of those abducted from native Africa and was then forced into slavery in the West Indies and United States until they escaped to Canada in the 1830’s.
“I think anytime something like this happens in the public it’s important that we identify and educate the public in what’s happening and I think this is a prime opportunity for the public to understand that there are these other views out there and its something to be aware of,” adds Ambrose.
A community forum on hate-based crimes and racism is being held on Oct. 22 at the Owen Sound Harmony Centre, and it’s being sponsored by Grey Bruce Crime Stoppers.
Owen Sound Police would like residents to report if they see the stickers so that they can look for fingerprints and document the scene as they continue to investigate and build a timeline.
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