MONTREAL – An anti-hate speech activist says he’s not done fighting after a Quebec town’s refusal to remove two swastika-emblazoned anchors from a public park.
Corey Fleischer, who regularly travels around to remove hateful graffiti, said he went to examine the anchors last week in Pointe-des-Cascades, about 50 kilometres from Montreal.
He said that when he tried to scrub the paint from the symbols he was interrupted by Mayor Gilles Santerre, who called police to stop him.
“We’re talking about an outdoor park, a public place where everyone comes…why should there be something in the park that offends 90 per cent of people?” Fleischer said in a phone interview Thursday.
The town of Pointe-des-Cascades released a statement earlier this week saying the anchors likely hail from a time prior to the Second World War when a swastika was considered by some to be a symbol of good luck that had nothing to do with Nazism.
Santerre added the community won’t remove them but will put up new plaques nearby to explain the origin of the anchors.
“The village of Pointe-des-Cascades does not endorse Nazism,” he said in the statement.
“Our village has a beautiful community and family spirit and creates events that bring families together.”
Fleischer, who has founded a group dedicated to fighting hate speech, disputes the town’s account.
He says the town painted the symbol in black on a white circle background — colours which define a Nazi swastika.
Plaques in the park, which have since been removed, also described the anchors as Second World War artifacts.
“I’m not saying the city knew when they painted that or if it was straight ignorance, but whoever painted that anchor transformed it with the paint to a Nazi swastika,” Fleischer said.
He says he’s considering legal action to force the removal of the anchors.
On Thursday afternoon, one of the anchors had been repainted in all white.
Before they became synonymous with the Nazi regime, swastikas were used by many groups, including sailors, as a good luck symbol, according to a historian at the Royal Military College of Canada.
“Sailors, by their very nature, are superstitious, and they have their little symbols they use to guide them and protect them,” according to Maj. Tanya Grodzinski.
Grodzinski says the photos from the Quebec park look very similar to those of a British-made anchor with swastikas that is on display at a naval museum in Texas.
Both the Texas anchor and one of the Quebec ones bear the same manufacturer’s name, adding credence to the town’s claims the anchor is not a Nazi relic.
The incident comes as cities across Canada are struggling with the question of whether to remove controversial or offensive historical place names and monuments or to instead educate people on their histories.
In the case of the anchor, Grodzinski sides with the town’s strategy of explaining rather than removing the symbol if it is indeed confirmed as having no link to Nazism.
“To say ‘this is evil, we should remove it,’ destroys all context and doesn’t acknowledge that these things at one time meant something else,” he said.
Fleischer vehemently disagrees, saying the symbol has no place in a public park, regardless of its origin.
“The swastika is no longer a sign of peace,” he said. “It’s a sign attached to a party that literally almost wiped out an entire culture.”