Over the past two weeks, seven areas on or near the University of Toronto’s downtown campus have been defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti in what appears to be at least two separate incidents.
Rob Nagus, director of Hillel U of T, said that on Sept. 30, students began reporting sightings of swastikas throughout the campus.
The first three swastikas were found on a sign outside of U of T’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) on Spadina Avenue, as well as a bus stop on Harbord Street and a sign for the medical sciences building on King’s College Circle.
In the hours before Yom Kippur began, Nagus said he received a text message from a student who discovered more swastikas on campus. Two were drawn on an engineering mural on St. George Street. Two days later, on Oct. 13, another swastika was discovered on a sidewalk down the street from the mural, outside U of T’s anthropology building.
U of T spokesperson Althea Blackburns-Evans said similar graffiti was also discovered on College Street on the steps of the school’s mining building, and on the road at College and Henry streets, which is near the campus, but technically city property.
Blackburns-Evans said U of T was working to remove the graffiti as quickly as possible.
“We have no evidence to officially document it, but it appears that the first three that we saw were all done around the same time,” Nagus said, adding that the graffiti found Sept. 30 and the graffiti found in October seem to be unconnected.
“It certainly looks like separate incidents right now. The first three swastikas were all drawn backwards, and it looks like it was done by one person. [The second set of swastikas] look like they were done by two different people,” Nagus said.
As the reports came in from students, Nagus said Hillel contacted campus security, U of T administrators and the student government.
“[U of T] has been very vigilant in removing them right away and following up with us,” Nagus said, adding he was also very appreciative of the strong stance the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) took to condemn the graffiti.
“The swastika is a symbol of anti-Semitic hatred, and this kind of vandalism has no place on our campus,” UTSU said in a statement on its Facebook page.
“Anti-Semitic violence, along with all other forms oppression, must be resisted and dismantled. We stand in solidarity with Jewish students, who, like all students, have a right to feel safe on campus. We, as a community, cannot allow that right to be undermined by expressions of hatred. Such acts cannot go unchallenged.”
Blackburns-Evans said although vandalism of this kind is a rare occurrence, U of T is very concerned.
“We really want to get to the bottom of this. We’ve moved quickly to remove it and we filed a report with Toronto Police… they are investigating… There haven’t been any witnesses or leads,” she said.
Nagus said although U of T does have security cameras on campus, it appears that none of the cameras caught the perpetrators.
“We at Hillel are very concerned. We are taking it very seriously. We are working hard with our community partners and our partners at the University of Toronto, and we would urge that if anyone sees anything, to continue to report it to us immediately so we can document it and work with the university to make sure this stuff never happens again.”
Berl Nadler, co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Toronto Council said in a statement that he was “deeply alarmed” about these incidents, as they “appear to be deliberate acts of hate rather than matters of casual or thoughtless graffiti. The swastika is a symbol of violence against Jews and hostility toward Canada’s democratic values. No student, Jewish or otherwise, should be forced to see their campus desecrated this way.”
Marc Newburgh, CEO of Hillel Ontario, said, “Jewish students at the University of Toronto have a right to feel safe on campus. This cowardly attempt at intimidation will not go unchallenged.”