“It was true disbelief, and then we dug into the symbolism and the meaning behind the stickers and realized that we were dealing with pure stupid hate,” explained Francesca Dobbyn, a concerned community member and executive director of Bruce Grey United Way.
“We really had to take a step back and think, ‘What is going on in our community, and what can we do to stop this?'”
Since July, the Owen Sound Police Service has investigated more than a dozen incidences in which hate-related stickers turned up in public spaces, including Harrison Park, a popular community gathering space. The stickers were reportedly stuck on metal poles, swings, park benches and electrical boxes, and according to police, they are turning up in different pockets of the city.
“There’s no place for this type of activity in our community, and we’re very concerned about the division it could cause if it’s allowed to grow and fester,” said Owen Sound police Chief Craig Ambrose.
The police service’s top brass are looking into the activity, which is considered mischief, as there is no particular charge for a hate crime in the Criminal Code of Canada.
“It would be mischief, but certainly, any type of promoting hate and things like that more often is an aggravating factor when it comes to an offence itself,” Ambrose added.
This isn’t the only hate-related incident in recent months. Just one day after the stickers began popping up around the city, a mosque was vandalized in what police believe was a hate-based crime, with the front steps, windows and parking lot covered in eggs, mustard and ketchup.
Less than a week after that incident, police arrested and charged a 22-year-old with two counts of mischief to religious property related to the mosque incident and one of mischief under $5,000 in connection to vandalism at the Popeyes restaurant located in the east end of the city.
“We’re very much a welcoming community,” said Mayor Ian Boddy.
“It definitely isn’t how Owen Sound feels, and the whole community reacted immediately to say this isn’t acceptable …
“The community as a whole always comes together when something like that happens, and we support each other.”
The incidents prompted community members to band together and form a grassroots group denouncing racism called the Bruce-Grey Anti-Racism Network. Its Facebook group has more than 450 followers and is led by community members who want to make a change.
WATCH: Woman in alleged racist video appears in Toronto court
“This kind of stuff is not to be tolerated, and it’s got to get the heck out,” said Josh Richardson. He says he and his sons found anti-Muslim and “skinhead” stickers on signs along a local trail.
“It’s evident that people are really motivated to counter this kind of stuff, that it’s not acceptable. I think the leaders in our community recognize that — or should recognize that — this is motivated by the people.”
The hateful stickers keep showing up at locations residents consider to be quite sacred like the cenotaph, where a white pride sticker was reportedly placed on the flagpole.
“It’s just mind-boggling that on the Canada flag at the cenotaph, that someone puts on a KKK sticker,” Dobbyn said. “You have no idea the history of what that means, what that means to our history, what that means to our veterans — I mean, what is going on in your head?”
Another targeted spot has been in the area of the Black History Cairn, a memorial for the city’s first black settlers, who sought freedom in Canada after escaping slavery in the United States through the Underground Railroad.
The memorial traces the route these Canadians took after being abducted from Africa, forced into slavery in the West Indies and the United States and eventually escaping to Canada in the 1830s.
“I think anytime something like this happens in the public, it’s important that we identify and educate the public in what’s happening, and I think this is a prime opportunity for the public to understand that there are these other views out there and it’s something to be aware of,” Ambrose said.
A community forum on hate-based crimes and racism, sponsored by Grey Bruce Crime Stoppers, is being held on Oct. 22 at the Owen Sound Harmony Centre.
Owen Sound police would like residents to report any stickers they see so that authorities can look for fingerprints and document the scene as they continue to investigate and build a timeline.
Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) said they are concerned by the ongoing white supremacist stickers in Owen Sound and will be following up with police and the mayor’s office to “ensure action is being taken and to offer educational programs aimed at addressing hate in the community.”
“It is alarming to see such a campaign of hate in Owen Sound,” FSWC President and CEO Avi Benlolo said. “We ask residents to be vigilant and report relevant information to police, and we ask law enforcement to dedicate themselves to a full investigation to ensure that the perpetrators are apprehended and face hate crime charges.”
WATCH: Anti-Hate Network chair speaks out after arrest of Canadian Armed Forces member with alleged ties to hate group