In a tree-lined park, just south of the Danforth, that backs on to a colourful alley filled with vibrant images, a mother sat playing with her two young children on Wednesday.
“About eight to 10 kids sat down at the picnic table and for 45 minutes they just went to work,” she said.
With sharpies in hand, she said, they began drawing on the picnic table at Felstead Avenue Playground, a park she frequents with her family.
“They were on a mission,” said the mother, who preferred to remain anonymous, concerned for her family’s safety.
When the group left, she peered over at the picnic table.
“I was horrified,” she said.
“Slurs against everyone you can think of… it was inciting violence and death against Jews, Muslims, racial slurs against people of colour, homophobic slurs as well.”
Generally she would have been at work, but on this day, she was marking Yom Kippur.
“It is the holiest day of the Jewish year and I was here with my two children… I felt sick to my stomach, I had chills, it was just really frightening to see some of the words that were inscribed,” she said.
After snapping a few photographs of the graffiti, she reached out to her neighbours.
Word got to the principal of a nearby high school who said he was able to identify the students responsible for the hate graffiti.
Rob MacKinnon, principal of both Danforth Collegiate and Technical Institute and Greenwood Secondary School, wrote in an email to parents, “I have been clear with the ones I have spoken to that this is considered a hate crime and that the police will be involved.”
“The two students I was able to speak to were sent to the park at the end of the day with cleaners to try to erase and clean the tables,” his email continued.
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“I told all staff about the incident and the seriousness with which I take it. I have asked them to keep an eye out for any racist, anti-Semitic, Islamaphobic, homophobic, etc., writings on notebooks, and in the school,” he said.
By Thursday morning, most of the graffiti was gone.
What remained was painted over by city staff, dispatched by Toronto City Councillor Paula Fletcher, who herself went to the park armed with green spray paint.
“Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia seem to be on the rise. And there’s no place for that in this neighbourhood,” she said. “They need to understand how harmful and hateful this is, their parents need to be involved this isn’t a faceless, nameless crime, these are little hate crimes and they could be charged or they could figure out something else to do.”
Fletcher plans to reach out to the local school trustee.
This is reassuring to the mother who witnessed the graffiti being drawn.
“I really hope that this is a wake-up call to them and to their educators in the community that any type of hate speech here or anywhere shouldn’t be tolerated… this is a really tight-knit community that celebrates diversity, is very inclusive, so when something like this happens here it’s just really upsetting.”
Ryan Bird, spokesperson for the Toronto District School Board, sent Global News a statement: “When concerns about hateful graffiti being found in a nearby park were brought to the school’s attention, the school immediately began investigating and Toronto Police were notified. Danforth CTI is a large, diverse and caring school of about 1000 students; this incident involving a very small number is not reflective of the inclusive, welcoming space that it is.”