‘Disgust and disappointment’: Ajax Mayor condemns antisemitic graffiti found during Jewish Heritage Month

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Published May 9, 2023 at 7:37 pm

Ajax Mayor Shaun Collier has expressed his and Council’s “disgust and disappointment” at the discovery of antisemitic graffiti along a trail.

The graffiti, the nature of which Collier did not specify, was found on a trail running along Achilles Road on May 9. The road sits on the south side of Hwy. 401 and runs parallel to it from Harwood Avenue, through Salem Road to a dead end.

Immediately after the discovery, the town sent out a clean-up crew to remove the graffiti and referred the matter to Durham Regional Police.

Collier later put out a statement denouncing the graffiti, saying symbols of hate “have no place in Ajax.” He said town council wanted to express “our disgust and disappointment at the discovery…and relay the Town’s dedication and support to the Jewish community as we continue to stand with you and condemn hate in all its forms.”

Ajax has had trouble with graffiti in recent months, though not all linked to hate. A rash of graffiti was discovered on the waterfront in January, prompting numerous public complaints. This graffiti was soon cleaned up.

Issues around antisemitism have also cropped up in recent years after the naming of a street after Nazi ship Captain Hans Langsdorff, who led the German side of the Battle of River Plate. The Town of Ajax is named after a British ship, HMS Ajax, which participated in the battle, and numerous streets are named after servicemen.

Controversy erupted early in 2022 after former Mayor Steve Parish was tapped as the NDP candidate of that year’s provincial election. Parish, who was mayor for 23 years, named the street after Langsdorff in 2007 with unanimous support from council. Collier was on council at the time prior to his mayoral election in 2018. In his first term, Collier and council renamed the street after British navy man V.G. Croker, who died on HMS Ajax in combat with the Langsdorff’s vessel Admiral Graf Spee.

Parish apologized for the naming but was nevertheless replaced as the NDP candidate.

Collier later reflected on the “enormity of pain” caused by the street naming and also apologized for his role in it. The controversy sparked a renewed conversation about the Jewish community in Ajax and led to a meeting between Collier, council, and Chabad of Durham Region Rabbi Tzali Borenstein.

During this meeting, Borenstein educated council about the generational trauma experienced by Jews around the world caused by the Holocaust. An estimated six million Jews were murdered in Europe between 1941 and 1945 (roughly two-thirds of the continent’s Jewish population), after years of increasing violence, harassment and criminalization of German Jews. Another five million Slavic, Romani and LGBT people were also slaughtered as well as people with disabilities.

Following the “impactful and valuable” meeting, Collier said he now recognizes “the enormity of the pain caused by the name and thank those who brought the issue to light. It has been a teachable moment for me and I’m pleased it resulted in the decision to rename the street to Croker Drive.”

Ajax marked May as Jewish Heritage Month shortly thereafter and now hosts Jewish Heritage events throughout the month. They also began to display a menorah in town hall during Hanukah each year.

“Ajax  has taken a vocal anti-hate position and conversations like the one held with Rabbi Borenstein are an important part of our ongoing work to learn, reflect, and strengthen relationships within our community,” Collier remarked at the time.

In the months after, Ajax worked to continue anti-hate measures through a grant specialist to connect cultural institutions with Ontario’s $25 million Grant to Support Anti-Hate Security Measures, established an Ajax Anti-Black Racism Task Force, and endorsed the National Coalition of Canadian Muslim’s recommendations to combat Islamophobia.

Following the most recent graffiti, Collier reiterated May is Jewish Heritage Month in his statement and asked residents to acknowledge and celebrate the Jewish Canadians in their communities.

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