A mural in the Montreal neighbourhood of Saint-Henri denouncing white supremacy was vandalized, just days after its inauguration, with what community leaders say is a racist message.

The mural by Colombian-American artist Jessica Sabogal depicts an Indigenous woman holding up a sign in front of her eye that says "White supremacy is killing me."

The mural was painted as part of 'Unceded Voices,' a showcase for street artists of colour, which was held from Aug. 13 to 21. It was to be featured in a tour of the street art on Saturday. 

Tuesday morning, the mural had been vandalized with the words "anti white" painted on it in red.

Red paint had also been splashed onto the mural, and there were several broken balloons, which appeared to have been filled with paint.

'Clearly, cleary racist'

"It's clearly, clearly racist; it's clearly hateful and it has no place in Saint-Henri," said Craig Sauvé, Montreal city councillor for Saint-Henri–La Petite-Bourgogne–Pointe-Saint-Charles. "It's disgusting."

racist tag on st henri mural

A mural painted this month depicting an Indigenous woman holding a sign, saying 'White supremacy is killing me,' was vandalized with the words 'anti white' painted in red. (CBC)

The website for Unceded Voices describes Sabogal's art as serving "as a haven, a tribute, a creative outlet of adoration and exaltation for women with stories often untold."

"Her pieces possess a vision of female identity that is revolutionary and powerful, brave and beautiful."

By the afternoon, a group of people were already covering up the vandalism. Some said they were upset by CBC Montreal's presence at the mural because they feared the media coverage of the act would spur similar ones in the neighbourhood. 

Sauvé recalled an instance when, a few years ago, a mural in Pointe-Saint-Charles depicting a black woman was "white washed" and "immediately the community came out and repainted it as it was."

'Should be our red flag'

"That's what we have to do, we have to repair murals when they're attacked like that," he said, adding the racist message was not representative of the community he likened to a "little village."

But Shannon Franssen, the coordinator of local organization Solidarité Saint-Henri, said the tag "should be our red flag."

She said the fact someone felt emboldened to do such a thing showed "it's time to talk about these issues … there's really an issue that we need to deal with, not just in our neighbourhood, but in all of Quebec."

"It's not happening in isolation. There are things like this happening all over North America," she said.

Not only was it a racist message that makes people feel unsafe, Franssen added, but it was done in a way that is "obviously not productive, not constructive; it's not a debate, it's vandalizing a mural with a really important message."

"The response is unfortunate and horrible, but it really does show that the mural has a point."

with files from Antoni Nerestant and Radio-Canada