Hamilton police are investigating after a swastika and the words "gas the Jews" were found spray-painted on the ground on the Escarpment Rail Trail Wednesday.

It's just one of several such incidents in Hamilton in recent weeks, including chalk swastikas drawn on the ground near Locke Street, and a swastika found drawn in a McMaster University bathroom.

Pat Gallagher saw the graffiti on the Escarpment Rail Trail when he was under the Mohawk Street bridge.

"I was shocked, absolutely shocked," Gallagher said. "This is just hateful."

Gallagher says he is often on the trail, and this is the first time he had ever seen something like this.

"With everything going on in the U.S. … it's like it's spreading," he said.

Hamilton Police Service spokesperson Const. Steve Welton confirmed that police are investigating the incident. 

"We recognize the impact this has on people and the community," Welton said in an email. "Hamilton police continues to encourage everyone to report these types of incidents so they can be investigated."

Gallagher sent in a photo of the graffiti after reading a story CBC News posted on Wednesday, about chalk swastikas that were found scrawled on a street in Hamilton's Kirkendall neighbourhood. 

Racist grafitti

By Wednesday evening, the graffiti had been covered over. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

"Hatred and bigotry are rearing their ugly heads — first in the form of swastikas on the sidewalks, discovered in chalk on Family Day and now in painted graffiti on the Rail Trail depicting both swastikas and a call to action to "gas the Jews," said Barb Babij, the CEO of the Hamilton Jewish Federation. "Both incidents occurred in Hamilton. Both are despicable expressions of anti-Semitism and hatred. The second goes beyond the use of a symbol that in itself evokes the horror and memory of one of history's most heinous periods.

"It is no longer freedom of speech, it is hate speech and crosses the line and may be a criminal act which police will have to determine during their investigation. In a country that prides itself on multiculturalism, diversity and inclusion, and in a city whose vision is 'to be the best place to raise a child and age successfully,' we must denounce these acts as a community and reject their message wholeheartedly wherever and against whom they surface."

A symbol of 'horror, destruction and evil'

Speaking about the swastikas found on the sidewalk in Kirkendall, Rabbi Jordan Cohen from Temple Anshe Sholom told CBC Hamilton Wednesday the symbol "represents horror, destruction and evil."

"Every Jew is going to have a deep reaction to that — one of fear," he said.

Cohen pointed to incidents of racism in both the U.S. and in Canada as evidence of a surge of "anti-Semitism, prejudice and hate.

"The extreme right and the extremists seem to feel that this is their time," he said.

McMaster University spokesperson Gord Arbeau confirmed that a swastika was also found inside a McMaster University bathroom on Feb. 13.

"It was removed and we contacted Hamilton police," Arbeau said. "There is no room on campus for these hateful symbols."

Andrea Horwath, Ontario NDP leader and Hamilton Centre MP, was in a statement Thursday that she was "saddened and disgusted." Coun. Matthew Green of Ward 3 issued a statement too.

"As a New Democrat, a Hamiltonian, and someone who believes profoundly in the value of diversity, I reject and condemn this hatred," Horwath said. 

"Anti-Semitism has no place in Ontario and no place in Hamilton. I know the vast majority of Hamiltonians join me in rejecting anti-Semitism, prejudice, and hate of any kind."

Hate across Canada

Similar incidents have sprung up across Canada in recent months. Someone carved a swastika in the snow on the football field at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. in January, while a teen who spray-painted racial slurs and swastikas at six different locations in Ottawa last November pleaded guilty last week.

In Toronto, police say they are now investigating anti-Semitic notes found on doors inside a North York condo on Sunday as a possible hate crime.

Several residents found notes with pictures of swastikas stuck to their doors. At least one of the notes also said "No Jews."

By Wednesday evening, the graffiti on the rail trail had been covered over, with black spots on the ground where the hate speech used to be.

City spokesperson Jasmine Graham said that parks crews were alerted about the graffiti Wednesday morning at about 9 a.m. 

"We informed police and started the clean up by about 10 a.m. yesterday," Graham said.

adam.carter@cbc.ca