Hamilton police investigate 'white people first' sticker on campaign ad as hate crime
'This is a reminder of the things that are wrong with Hamilton and Canada:' Ward 14 candidate Kojo Damptey
Just two weeks before Ontario's municipal election, Ward 14 councillor candidate Kojo Damptey had to pause his door-knocking and campaign efforts to clean off a racist sticker covering one of his ads on a Hamilton Mountain bus shelter.
"This is a reminder of the things that are wrong with Hamilton and Canada," Damptey, who is Black, said in a video posted to social media Monday.
"Someone or some group of people take the time to put up an anti-Black and white supremacist message on the face of a bus ad. This speaks to some of the things we've been trying to bring attention to in this city. It's unfortunate and we'll see if we can find out who did it."
His partner could be seen in the video behind him, cleaning off the remnants of the sticker that read "white lives matter, time to take a stand, white people first."
The sticker, on a bus shelter near Upper Paradise Road and Mohawk Road West, also displayed a URL to a group on Telegram, an encrypted messaging platform.
The sticker was placed on top of part of Damptey's face.
Damptey is the former executive director of the Hamilton Centre For Civic Inclusion (HCCI) and a leader among all of those in the city who speak out against racism.
Police investigating incident as hate crime
Hamilton police spokesperson Jackie Penman told CBC that officers are investigating the incident as a hate crime.
"The incident was reported this morning. We believe it occurred sometime between Oct. 9-10," she wrote in an email.
"Hate crime in Hamilton is not acceptable. Left unchecked, hate crime can have a far-reaching impact on communities. This is an ongoing, active investigation. Hate speech and all forms of racism have no place in our community."
After Damptey and the Equity Network, a local anti-racism advocacy group, posted about the sticker online, numerous responses condemning the vandalism poured in.
"There is a reactionary White backlash occurring in Hamilton where those who have perceived their power and privilege see any emerging non-white leadership as a direct threat to their white supremacy. The dog whistles from some candidates to this effect are clearly being heard," tweeted Hamilton Centre NDP MP Matthew Green.
"This is unacceptable. White supremacists in this city continue to multiply and get away with racism and hate while we see little to no action to address this by city leaders and officials. Enough is enough," tweeted HCCI.
It appears the sticker on Damptey's ad was part of a larger propaganda campaign.
An Ontario group chat on Telegram includes a post from Oct. 9 with five pictures that says "white lives matter activists have been placing pro-white material throughout Hamilton."
The City of Hamilton tweeted Tuesday afternoon it was aware of hateful and racist vandalism on city property, including transit shelters, and would be removed by city workers "as quickly as possible."
"We condemn racism in any/all forms and are committed to nurturing a city that is welcoming and inclusive, and where the community feels safe."
A post from the Ontario Telegram group Sept. 26 also shows posters that say "white unity at every opportunity" seemingly posted in Brantford, Ont. It's unclear if any of the material is still up.
'It's not a quest for social justice'
Peter Smith, a journalist and researcher with the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said there's no clear data on if hate crimes and incidents are more common during election season, but said the far right is more active during this time as they try to get people elected into power.
He said the group connected to the sticker has no real hierarchy, but has a broad goal of spreading propaganda and growing the group.
Smith said the people in these groups are generally overt racists and neo-Nazis.
"When you look at their online spaces ... it's not a quest for social justice," he said in a phone interview. "It's an explicitly, openly racist group."
Hamilton saw a record number of hate crimes in 2021.
The Hamilton Police Service recorded 21 hate crimes last year — more than 2019, 2018 and 2017 combined.
Police also said there were 108 reported hate incidents (87 of which weren't considered crimes), a 35 per cent increase from 2020. But the figure is around average when compared to past years.
Almost all reported local hate crimes and incidents last year in Hamilton targeted Black, Jewish, Muslim and LGBTQ communities.
Police have also acknowledged the true number of hate incidents and crimes is likely higher as many instances don't get reported to police.
The rise in hate incidents is part of a national trend, with Statistics Canada data showing 3,360 of them across the country compared to 2,073 in 2017.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.