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'Wash it off': Jewish Montrealer says police initially didn't take anti-Semitic graffiti seriously

A Montreal man says police have apologized and opened an investigation after initially telling him and his girlfriend that they weren't going to file a report about a swastika scrawled on their car.

Warning: This story contains offensive language

Montreal activist Corey Fleischer was called by a man reporting hateful graffiti on his girlfriend's car. Fleischer recorded a video showing him removing the graffiti, and posted it to Facebook, which prompted police to react. (Corey Fleischer/Facebook)

A Montreal man says police have apologized and opened an investigation after initially telling him and his girlfriend that they weren't going to file a report about a swastika scrawled on their car.

Steve Shivalofsky and his girlfriend live in the Monkland village area of Montreal's Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood. He said that on Wednesday afternoon, his girlfriend was heading out for an appointment when she found a note on their car's windshield, "telling her to go to the passenger side, and that someone had written something horrible on the door."

If a kind neighbour hadn't left that note, Shivalofsky said, his girlfriend could have driven off without noticing the swastika and hateful message.

Steve Shivalofsky and his girlfriend found this hateful graffiti on their car on Wednesday afternoon. (Corey Fleischer/Facebook)

Shivalofsky, who is Jewish, said he had never experienced anything like this before. 

"There were 10 to 15 people who walked by on the street, some of whom burst into tears when they saw it on the side of the car. So the impact is much greater than one person when it's something like this," said Shivalofsky, whose girlfriend didn't want her name used to maintain her privacy. 

Shivalofsky told CBC, however, that he and his girlfriend phoned the local police station to file a report, but the response left them feeling worse.

"What they said was: 'Wash it off,'" Shivalofsky told CBC.

He said the officer told him "if this was the first time something like this had happened, they're not going to come take a report."

Community activist comes to the rescue

Shivalofsky, who felt like police had failed him, instead turned to community activist Corey Fleischer, founder of the Erasing Hate movement.  

Fleischer shared a Facebook live video of himself cleaning up the graffiti. He criticized Montreal police for their lack of action.

"What is the point of having a hate crime unit in the city of Montreal if they're not going to come here right away and take the report?" Fleischer says in the video.

Police apologize, launch investigation

By the next day, police had seen the Facebook video and reached out to Shivalofsky.

He said police apologized, and told him they had opened a file on the incident and would be investigating.

Montreal police Station 11 Cmdr. Jean O'Malley said the officer who answered Shivalofsky's call is on vacation for the next month, and he hasn't had the opportunity to get his version of the story.

But he said officers are supposed to take that sort of complaint seriously.

"I wasn't there yesterday when the plaintiff called the station but it's not the way it's supposed to be," said O'Malley.

"Let me reassure you that we are taking care of all hate crimes that are being reported and, if I have to, I will meet the officer and see exactly what happened."

He said a shoe polish container found on the grass near the car will be analyzed for fingerprints, and officers are also looking into whether there could be surveillance footage.

The investigation will be transferred to the police Hate Crimes Unit. 

Lt.-Det. Line Lemay of the Hate Crime Unit said she is aware of the incident, and based on preliminary information, it appears to fall under the category of a hate crime. 

She said the unit will be co-ordinating with Station 11 to investigate.

About the Author

Jaela Bernstien

Jaela Bernstien is a journalist with CBC Montreal.