Alleged racially motivated vandalism hits Surrey election signs

South Asian candidates see their signs defaced.

As the Surrey municipal elections kicked into full-swing in early October, an unpleasant side of the city quickly made itself known. A wave of petty vandalism hit mayoral election signs across the city, with the vast majority of defacements focused on candidates of South Asian descent. Surrey Mayoral candidate Barinder Rasode has filed a police report with Surrey RCMP after incurring significant costs to replace the defaced signs.

“Almost immediately all of the party signs had a little bit of vandalism on them,” says Rasode. “But as more of my signs started to go up, then there was a little more targeted vandalism on just my signs–to the point where there was 50 in one night.”

Most of the signs have been defaced using black spray paint. In most cases, the faces and names of South Asian candidates have been obscured. While some vandalism on campaign signs is to be expected, the frequency and concentration of defacement on signs from South Asian candidates suggests racial targeting. There is currently no way to tell how many perpetrators are involved, but the number of signs hit in a short period of time suggests that more than there may be multiple perpetrators.

“Random graffiti happens in various areas but it’s very different to have the same messages on 50 signs all across the city,” says Rasode.

In addition to Rasode, signs for the Safe Surrey Coalition have commonly had the faces and names of council candidates Rina Gill and Justin Thind obscured with black paint while Caucasian candidates have typically been left alone.

This type of behaviour has been relatively uncommon in Surrey elections up to this point. Rasode herself has run in previous elections using similar signs complete with her image without incident.

However, similar incidents of racist vandalism on election signs have been occurring elsewhere in Canada. During the recent municipal election in Toronto, candidate Munira Abukar had her signs defaced with the words “Go back home,” along with racial slurs and profanities. Similar reports occurred in Abbotsford during their municipal election last year.

“It saddens me because election signs are so visible to families and young children. My first thought was feeling quite sad about the kids that were driving by the signs, with parents having to explain adult behaviour in that way, because I know how my 10-year-old daughter reacted to it,” says Rasode.

In addition to the personal violation of having the signs attacked, Rasode’s campaign has had to swallow the cost of replacing and repairing the signs. The total bill for replacement is as high as $40,000. Rasode says that these incidents haven’t made her feel afraid for her own safety, but they do give her insight as to the feelings of Surrey residents and business owners.

“I think as I sat as an independent on council that one thing has been very clear: that people don’t feel safe in the city of Surrey. The latest poll finds that 13 per cent of residents feel safe, and now I know firsthand the experience that some businesses have with graffiti or damage to their personal property,” says Rasode. “And it does feel like a violation.”

Incidents such as these reflect very poorly on a city that has historically had a negative reputation to overcome, but Rasode says she doesn’t see these behaviours as at all typical of the city she lives in.

“If [the vandalism] is to discourage the campaign and my volunteers, it didn’t have that effect and if it’s to instill intimidation again that didn’t happen because the community stepped up in a very strong way to condemn this behavior,” says Rasode.

“I think that this incident is so vastly different than the Surrey I’m raising my three kids in.”

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