Racist posters appear in Midtown
Locals react to It’s OK To Be White signs in Leaside and the Annex
The signs were put up on the University of Toronto campus and in the Annex
Image: Tom Yun, The Varsity
Posters believed to be linked to a white nationalist group surfaced in two Midtown neighbourhoods last month, worrying residents.
Plain papers with the message “It’s Ok To Be White” sparked difficult discussions about inclusivity and safety in Leaside. The posters seem to have originated on the online messaging board 4Chan, with an anonymous user located in Canada providing others with a downloadable link to the posters.
Residents said posters were found all over the neighbourhood, including on lampposts on Laird Drive and Rumsey Road, Eglinton Avenue East and Bessborough Drive. Some appeared near local public schools.
“Non-white kids don’t need to see that bulls*** in their neighbourhood,” said a Leaside mother who took down more than 20 posters in November. For the sake of her 12-year-old daughter who is biracial, the woman requested anonymity. “My daughter already feels different here,” she said. “She doesn’t need that reinforced.”
Members of a closed Leaside Facebook group had different suggestions for how to deal with the issue. Most said they started to take them down themselves. Some suggested starting a counter-campaign about inclusivity. Still others urged residents to contact the City of Toronto and police.
Toronto Police Service, 53 Division’s community response unit had received no formal complaints about the posters. When reached for comment, Staff Sgt. James Hogan said, based on precedent, the posters didn’t cross the threshold for hate speech.
But enough people in the Facebook group seemed bothered by the appearance of the posters.
Leaside resident Michelle Pappas said she now checks every poster she walks by but isn’t sure how much of the online chatter will turn into action.
“Once it’s gone, it’s kind of out of sight, out of mind. Which is unfortunate because I think it’s still going to be a problem,” Pappas said. “It’s a quiet community. People are willing to say what they want in a Facebook group but maybe not [to] somebody’s face. If they saw someone putting up the sign, would they say anything?”
The “It’s Ok To Be White” messaging was also found on campus at the University of Toronto the same week. City councillors Jon Burnside (Don Valley West) and Joe Cressy (Trinity-Spadina) did not return requests for comment on this story.
“It’s Ok To Be White” is known in activism circles as a tactic used by white supremacists to provoke and draw out moderate racism and to promote the white genocide conspiracy theory. Alex Hundert, an activist and former resident of St. Clair Avenue West, said it’s the growth of this moderate racism that’s “frustrating, scary and sad, all at once.” Hundert, a graduate student at Queen’s University, remembers neo-Nazi movements of this sort in his old neighbourhood in the 1990s. He said the uptick in racist sentiment in Canada is a result of a global movement.
“This is being done by explicit racists with the purpose of building this racist movement,” Hundert said. “Whether or not they are technically Nazis or white supremacists is not important because they are functionally indistinguishable.”
Despite talk, little physical organizing has come out of the Leaside group, save for the individual pulling of posters.
“I don’t think people know what to do,” Pappas said. She acknowledged she could have been the one to start a group effort but stopped short of organizing. “I didn’t know how bad the situation was. You never think things like this are going to happen in your neighbourhood.”
But for the mother worried about her daughter’s safety, it’s happening everywhere and she hopes more will be done.
“I would like to feel good about knowing that my neighbours would look out for my kid,” she said. “I wonder if she is safe here .… Now I’m not so sure. It’s one thing to chit-chat online, and it’s another to actually do something.”