Unattributed signs with messaging about immigration, such as this one at Balm Beach Road East and Marshall Road, have been appearing over the past month. Local CAOs are condemning the signs, and the OPP has been notified.Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 21, 2022 at 12:36

By Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Lawn signs with discriminatory messaging have been popping up in Midland recently, and local municipal officials are condemning the practice.

Over the past month, signs have been spotted along roads in Midland with messages some residents have perceived as offensive.

A MidlandToday reader sent in an image of one such sign that was seen at the corner of Balm Beach Road East and Marshall Road; the sign seems to equate lower quality of life with “mass immigration.”

“Nowhere does it indicate who might be responsible, but to (my partner and I) it seemed to be bordering on hate speech or racism. Hopefully, this won’t be a trend in our area,” said a citizen who did not want to provide a name for fear of repercussions.

MidlandCAO David Denault says this is not the first such sign to pop up in town.

“We have been removing these signs and have received some complaints from people who felt they were racist and hateful,” Denault explained in an email. “We have removed the signs on any town property as we would normally for being on our property without a permit.

“Nothing on the sign states who is putting them around town. We have also reached out to the OPP to let them know of the complaints we received,” he added.

According to OPP Const. David Hobson, sections 318 and 319 of the Criminal Code of Canada are related to criminal offences “committed against a person or property motivated solely, or in part, upon the race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, or sexual orientation of the victim.”

He added the Crown may increase a sentence through Section 718.2 if there is evidence the offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on those factors.

While Section 318 details the offence of advocating genocide, which the road signs do not advocate, Section 319 details the offence of public incitement of hatred.

“Under Section 319(1), everyone who, by communicating statements in a public place, incites hatred against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace is guilty of an indictable offence punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment, or of a summary conviction offence,” Hobson replied through email.

“Laying charges in either section requires the consent of the Ontario Attorney General,” he added.

“Upon receiving a complaint we would investigate and work with our specialized Hate Crime Unit for support and consult the Crown attorney,” said Hobson. “The OPP is dedicated to recognizing diversity, creating and maintaining co-operative and respectful relationships within our communities.”

Hobson noted every person in Ontario has the right to be free from racial discrimination and harassment, with the OPP taking all reported criminal allegations seriously, while fully investigating and holding those accountable for the crimes. They also investigate any report of an assault against any group or individual, and will enforce the law.

Denault added that laws involving hate speech, hate crimes, and incidents are dealt with not only through policing but also the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

“Anyone can raise a concern with the commission and/or policing when they feel there is an issue,” said Denault.

When asked if the signs had been seen in neighbouring municipalities around north Simcoe, Tay Township CAO Andrea Fay stated no signs had been reported to the bylaw department or staff.

“Tay Township condemns any hate-filled message and any inference to discrimination of any kind to any person or group. We pride ourselves on living in an open and accepting community, and embrace the principle that diversity strengthens and enriches the community we live in. We encourage our residents, staff and stakeholders to report any and all hate speech to our local police or Crime Stoppers,” wrote Fay.

This item reprinted with permission from MidlandToday.ca, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario