'Sickened ... not surprised': More racist graffiti turns up in Winnipeg

Racist graffiti has turned up in Winnipeg for a second time in the days after a woman was killed at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Black Space to hold 'silence is violence' community event in response to white nationalist movements

The messages 'The Klan is here' and other references to the Ku Klux Klan were found on this bridge railing at The Forks on Thursday. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)

Racist graffiti has turned up in Winnipeg for a second time in the days after a woman was killed at a white nationalist rally about 2,500 kilometres south in Charlottesville, Va.

"I think there's a lot more resentment of it," Debra Pitman said Thursday at The Forks where references to the Ku Klux Klan had been scrawled out on a bridge.

"I know I am sad to see it happening in the U.S. — to see the violence."

Over the weekend more than a dozen white supremacist graffiti tags were left on Wellington Crescent and in Omand Park, raising concerns among local residents and Jewish organizations.

A series of graffiti messages, including the one pictured above, were left along Wellington Crescent and in Omand Park over the weekend. (Submitted)

Both instances occurred in the aftermath of clashes in Charlottesville that saw a car plow through a crowd, killing counter-protester Heather Heyer, 32​, and injuring at least 19.

Pitman said she recoils at the thought of hate groups and growing racial tensions south of the border, but she believes the racist graffiti in Winnipeg isn't indicative of any broader issues in Manitoba.

"I think it's all been kind of blown out of proportion," she said. "Something like this is pretty minor. It's silly and stupid and juvenile, but I really don't think it's representative of what we're like here."

Racism on the Prairies

However, several people of colour and members of local grassroots groups say Manitobans shouldn't console themselves with the thought that racism of the sort that is on display in the U.S. isn't possible on the Prairies.

Author and podcaster Adeline Bird said Manitobans shouldn't brush off the graffiti incidents as if they're inconsequential.

"Black people, Indigenous people, people of colour have been experiencing this for a very long time," said Bird, a member of local grassroots group Black Space.

"Pushing this under the rug is not doing us any justice, saying that this is not relevant to Canada. Remember — especially Winnipeggers — remember we were labelled the most racist city across Canada. Just keep that in mind."

Racist graffiti has turned up in Winnipeg for a second time in the days after a woman was killed at a white nationalist rally about 2,500 kilometres south in Charlottesville, Va. 1:47

Omar Kinnarath, an anti-racist activist and organizer with Fascist Free Treaty One (FF1), said he was "not surprised" by the timing of the second batch of racist graffiti. 

"Of course we're sickened by it, we're disgusted by it," said Kinnarth, who as a Muslim has enountered harassment online in the past. "I can't say we're shocked."

Former University of Winnipeg sociology professor Helmut-Harry Loewen, another FF1 member, also warns Manitobans shouldn't be quick to dismiss the cases as isolated incidents.

There are a number of hate groups with a Winnipeg presence who have become emboldened by the Trump presidency, he says, including the local faction of Soldiers of Odin.

'Camouflage their hate'

Formed in Finland by a neo-Nazi, Loewen says the group and ones like it "camouflage their hate with concerns about immigration."

Helmut-Harry Loewen, a former sociology professor at the University of Winnipeg, says organization and recruitment of fascist and neo-Nazi groups are on the rise in Manitoba. (Submitted by Helmut-Harry Loewen)

"They posit themselves as the genuine Canadian patriots," he said. 

"They actually came out and confronted us, en masse, at city hall in March. There was a minor altercation and they came out essentially to intimidate the anti-fascists. It didn't work out that well, but we've confronted this group on five different occasions. That's only since March."

A spokesperson with The Forks told CBC News staff were aware of the racist graffiti and would work to remove it promptly.

In another development, a message promoting tolerance and diversity sprang up near the site of the graffiti on Wellington Crescent at the corner of Academy Avenue.

Signs with the messages 'Diversity is our strength' and 'Hatred is not welcome here' were taped on a bus shack at the corner of Academy Avenue and Wellington Crescent near the site where white supremacist graffiti was left over the weekend. (Daniel Igne-Jajalla/CBC)

Black Space is holding a "Silence is Violence"  event at the University of Winnipeg on Aug. 23 in response to the protests in Virginia. It is meant to give people a place to vent their frustrations, share concerns and provide support.

Though it might be tempting for some to scrub away the painful messages and move on, Bird encourages Manitobans to remain alert, engaged and to not be afraid to challenge racism in all its forms.

"If you have a family member that is participating in these things and you don't say anything, that's a form of violence as well," she said. 

"I feel like things are only going to get worse … and I think as a city we need to be prepared for this."

With files from Information Radio, Meaghan Ketcheson and Isaac Wurman