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A criminal investigation got under way on Wednesday after racist flyers openly attacking Black people were anonymously distributed to local homes, according to a southern Ontario police force.

Waterloo Regional Police said the force’s hate crime unit launched the probe hours after first learning of the pamphlets, which they alleged were left in mailboxes and on front steps of homes in both Kitchener and Waterloo.

The flyers, images of which were shared to social media and confirmed by police, show a picture of a Black man and white woman over text that both criticizes interracial relationships and parrots widely debunked claims about the intelligence of Black people.

“We want to reassure the public that this is a priority for our service,” police spokeswoman Cherri Greeno said in a statement.

“Investigators and analysts with our general detectives and hate crime units are investigating to determine the circumstances surrounding this incident, including identifying those responsible for disseminating the flyers.”

Donalee McIntyre, a local resident, social worker and community advocate, said the eugenics extolled in the flyer are a tangible example of the racism Black and other racialized communities face on a regular basis.

“People who are Black and Indigenous, people of colour, experience this every day,” she said. “It’s not a one-off. These are things that people experience.”

The reaction was similar for Laura Mae Lindo, a provincial NDP legislator representing a Kitchener riding and head of the party’s Black caucus. She said waking up to such blatantly racist material is traumatizing for members of racialized communities and is bound to raise fundamental questions of safety.

“It literally makes you worry that you’re surrounded by people who look at you and think that, because of the colour of your skin, you’re lesser,” she said. “Because that’s what the language on that flyer is suggesting.”

Word of the pamphlets sparked a number of social media posts from local residents decrying what they describe as pervasive, overt racism throughout the community.

Mayor Dave Jaworsky rejected that notion, noting city council has condemned anti-Black racism and unanimously affirmed support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

He decried the flyers, saying they have no place in any community.

“The distribution of this racist garbage is disgusting and I strongly condemn the message and the cowards that created it,” Jaworsky said in a statement. “I know it does not reflect the values of the majority of residents in our city.”

McIntyre said those who purport to fight racism and show solidarity with those experiencing racism need to fundamentally reconsider how they respond to such incidents, adding those who are being targeted should not bear primary responsibility for resolving the problem.

Greeno urged anyone who received a flyer to contact police so investigators can get a better sense of how widely they were disseminated. She encouraged recipients to handle the paper as little as possible in order to preserve possible forensic evidence.