Police in York Region, north of Toronto, are investigating anti-Semitic and racist graffiti found early Aug. 20 on the playgrounds at three Markham-area schools.
Families using the school yards awoke on Sunday morning to find “White Power,” “KKK” and drawings equating the Star of David to a swastika daubed on playground equipment.
The hate messages were found at William Armstrong Public School on Major Buttons Drive, Reesor Park P.S. on Wooten Way and at Markham District High School on Church Street.
Several families in the neighbourhood of William Armstrong P.S. scrubbed the paint off themselves with soap and water, CTV News reported. At Reesor Park P.S., the offensive graffiti was reportedly painted over.
York Regional Police Insp. Alvara Almeida said investigators believe the incidents are connected.
“We’ve determined that all three are connected and we believe the same group of individuals is responsible for all three incidents,” Almeida told CTV Toronto.
He added that police are treating the incidents as hate crimes.
“We treat these matters very seriously, given the nature of the material and the messages that were painted onto school property,” he said.
“I think we’re dealing with a specific group of individuals that were out last night with nothing better to do than to vandalize school property and leaving messages that are quite harmful to the community,” Almeida told the CBC.
“Crimes like these are devastating to everyone who takes pride in being part of such a diverse and inclusive community,” said York Regional Police Chief Eric Jolliffe in a statement. “I am asking our community to come together and share information that will help us find the people responsible for these crimes. I strongly encourage those responsible to seek legal advice and turn themselves in.”
York Region District School Board reported the vandalism to police, Kathryn Wallace, the board’s interim director of education, said in a statement the morning after.
The board has also engaged its co-ordinating superintendent of equity and community services, Cecil Roach, “who is reaching out to community agencies and groups representing those targeted by the anti-black racism and anti-Semitism,” said Wallace.
The board said it took “immediate measures” to remove the graffiti.
“We stand with the communities targeted by these unacceptable acts and will continue to work with our partners at York Regional Police and community agencies to address such hateful incidents,” Wallace stated.
Sara Lefton, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ vice-president of the Greater Toronto area, said she was “absolutely disgusted by this act of bigotry and racism,” adding that CIJA reached out to the Vaughan African Canadian Association in solidarity.
“While this display of hatred targets Jewish and black Canadians, it is also an assault on Canada’s core values,” Lefton said.
“We commend the police for quickly taking action and treating the graffiti as a serious crime as they search for suspects,” said Avi Benlolo, president and CEO of the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, in a press release.
“Hateful, anti-Semitic graffiti on Toronto-area schools is no laughing matter,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. “This phenomenon demonstrates the spread of anti-Jewish ideology in society, even reaching our vulnerable youth.”