Skip to main content

A graffiti removal worker cleans anti-Semitic graffiti, including a swastika, that was spray painted on the door of The Glebe Minyan and home of Rabbi Anna Maranta on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016 in Ottawa.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Since Donald Trump's election to the U.S. presidency, civil-rights groups have documented an upsurge in hate crimes across America, many of them explicitly motivated by the Republican's attacks on Muslims and Mexican immigrants.

Some fear that Canada has now caught the same contagion. Hateful graffiti and racist harassment from the Pacific coast to Southern Ontario has sparked anxiety among ethnic and religious minorities that Mr. Trump may have emboldened Canadian bigots to act more freely and more violently.

Not all of the incidents, ranging from swastikas spray-painted on houses of worship in Ottawa to anti-Asian flyers distributed in a Vancouver suburb, have a direct connection to Trump supporters. But some members of targeted groups, along with local politicians, believe that the New York real estate developer's presidential campaign has created a climate conducive to acts of hatred.

"The rise of Trump and Brexit and the alt-right have given credibility, even in its falseness, to people with certain viewpoints," said Adil Dhalla, executive director of the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto, and a Muslim man. "I'm not surprised, but I'm still really sad."

During his run for president, Mr. Trump proposed a temporary ban on Muslim immigration to curb terrorism, claimed Mexican "rapists" were pouring into the country, and said that African Americans have "no education."

In the past 10 days, minority groups in the country have been on the receiving end of an apparent spike in abusive speech, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has documented more than 400 instances of "hateful intimidation and harassment."

On Friday, U.S. Attorney-General Loretta Lynch – the first black woman to hold the post – alluded to the phenomenon and said that some of the incidents were being investigated by federal prosecutors. She also noted that hate crimes against Muslim Americans spiked 67 per cent last year.

In Canada, some of the most shocking incidents of hate have been concentrated in Ottawa, where a handful of religious facilities, including a mosque, a synagogue and a church with a black pastor, have been spray-painted with swastikas and racial slurs. The Congregation Machzikei Hadas, a modern Orthodox synagogue in the capital, was defaced with Nazi slogans and emblems on Wednesday or Thursday morning, leaving its congregants shaken.

"There is a feeling that people need reassurance here," said Rabbi Michael Goldstein. "We have increased our security protocol."

Anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant graffiti has marred Toronto in recent days, too. An elementary school in the suburban neighbourhood of Etobicoke saw the phrase "It's the Jews," scrawled in the schoolyard early this week. In a statement, the Toronto District School Board said that "in times like this, it is important that we remain focused on our commitment to fairness, equity and inclusion in our schools and communities."

On Monday evening, an avowed Trump supporter was filmed yelling at a young black man on a Toronto streetcar, telling him to "go back to your fucking country." Witnesses said the aggressor shouted "Go Trump" after being told he was racist.

Racially charged graffiti on a bus stop in Toronto and in a Regina back alley have lacked a direct connection to Mr. Trump's inflammatory campaign, but some believe his role in giving licence to xenophobes and bigots played a role.

"I do believe that the American election has legitimized the ultra-right and they feel much more emboldened," said Toronto city councillor Janet Davis, whose constituency saw the dissemination of posters earlier this week decrying multiculturalism and calling on white people to join the "alt-right" movement that has supported Mr. Trump. "The Trump election legitimized that kind of hate."

Ontario Attorney-General Yasir Naqvi said that the Trump connection was a plausible explanation for the rash of apparent hate crimes, "but that whatever the reason may be, the fact that they are happening is unacceptable."

"These acts of hate are absolutely shocking," he said. "We will prosecute these cases vigorously whenever charges are laid."

Mr. Naqvi urged Ontarians to show support for minority groups in the coming days and reject the politics of exclusion.

"Our communities have to come together shoulder by shoulder, arm in arm," he said.

Ms. Davis, the city councillor, said she was confident a handful of vandals didn't represent the values of Toronto or Canada, but warned against complacency.

"We can't take for granted and just simply live on our slogan that diversity is our strength," she said.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe