Cleaning up Montreal, 1 swastika at a time

When Corey Fleischer drove by a swastika scrawled on a cinder block off Monkland, he had to stop. Not just because he was Jewish, and not just because he was a graffiti remover, but because he felt it was his duty to clean it up. That was five years ago.

Corey Fleischer says he's removed hundreds of hateful scrawls all over the island, for free

Graffiti removal specialist Corey Fleischer says he removes one swastika in Montreal almost every day. (Corey Fleischer )

When Corey Fleischer drove by a swastika scrawled on a cinder block left on a street just off Monkland Avenue in Montreal's NDG neighbourhood, he had to stop.

Not just because he was Jewish, and not just because he was a professional graffiti remover, but because he felt it was his duty to clean it off.

That was five years ago, and since then Fleischer has removed hundreds of hateful markings across the island of Montreal.

"I roll around the city looking for anything that I can erase, anything that's flagrant or could be offensive to any cultures," said Fleischer.

"I have the expertise and all the equipment to make a difference, and that's what I do."

Corey Fleischer removes homophobic graffiti from an overpass along Highway 15. (Corey Fleischer )

Fleischer runs his own graffiti removal company called Provincial Power Washing, but he's made it his mission to get rid of any racist, homophobic or hateful graffiti for free.

It's his pastime, and he admits it's become a bit of an addiction: He feels a rush of adrenaline each time he sprays off a hurtful symbol.

Just this week, Fleischer removed a swastika from a kosher deli on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, just a block away from the makeshift memorial fans and mourners have created outside the late Leonard Cohen's home.

Fleischer posted a video on Facebook, stating, "Their hate will never be stronger than our love." 

Overture with the Arts' Akilah Newton is touring schools with graffiti remover Corey Fleischer to talk about erasing hate graffiti. (CBC)

Moved by Fleischer's efforts, the Montreal group Overture with the Arts teamed up with him for a tour of Montreal schools called Erasing Hate, speaking to students about graffiti and racism during Holocaust education month.

Fleischer told students at Marianopolis College that he removes a swastika almost every day, and 85 percent of the hate graffiti he tackles is anti-Semitic.

Graffiti remover Corey Fleischer speaks to Marianopolis students about removing hate graffiti 0:56

"They need to know, like everybody else needs to know, that this is going on in their own backyards, and there's no better place to start than in a school," said Fleischer.  

Fleischer posts pictures and videos of much of the graffiti he removes.

He relies a lot on social media to find the markings, as people alert him about racist symbols and words. Fleischer has even been contacted by people from cities around the world, asking him for tips on removing graffiti on different surfaces.

"I let them use me to get rid of hate, and I couldn't be happier to do so," he said.

Akilah Newton from Overture with the Arts is hoping to take the school tour across Canada. 

"If [the students] do see something like this, now they know that there's someone who can come and erase it from the buildings, and it's not just going to stay there for years to come," said Newton.