, 07.14.2020 11:14 AM

The Fight to Change ‘Swastika Trail’: The Gloves Are Off

Full Canadian Jewish Record story here.

July 14, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

A new campaign to change the name of Swastika Trail in the township of Puslinch, Ont. will seek to defeat local councillors in the next election who don’t support the effort.

Veteran political operative and anti-hate activist Warren Kinsella has joined the campaign by Township residents who have been trying for years to get the name changed.

This time, however, the gloves are off, Kinsella warned in an interview.

“We are saying to the politicians, ‘if any of you continue to defend this, we will run campaigns to defeat you in the next election. We will make sure that everybody knows you were indifferent to this hateful name being attached to this street,’” Kinsella said.

“It’s not a threat, it’s a promise,” he added. “If you guys are going to let lthis foul, disgusting name continue to be associated with this street, then we’re going to make sure people know you didn’t do anything about it when you could have.”

Kinsella, a Toronto lawyer, former Liberal Party strategist, founder of the anti-hate group Standing Against Misogyny and Prejudice (STAMP) and head of the Daisy Group consulting firm, joined the latest anti-Swastika Trail campaign at the request of long-time resident, Randy Guzar.

STAMP’s past efforts include helping to bring criminal convictions against the publisher and editor of Your Ward News, a free Toronto newspaper that promoted hatred against Jews and women.

Guzar has lived on Swastika Trail for more than 20 years and has seen at least four previous efforts to get the name changed.

The street was named in the 1920s when the swastika was still widely considered an ancient good luck symbol. The private road, owned by a numbered company, is in a mostly rural corner of Puslinch Township, south of Guelph in Wellington County. About 35 families live on the street.

Swastika Trail

The most recent effort to get the name changed started in April 2017 and ended in June 2018, when an Ontario court refused to review a council decision not to change the name.

Guzar and others went to court to challenge how the matter was handled by the council, which had asked the local cottagers association to decide whether to change the name. The association voted 25-20 to keep it, and Puslinch council vote 4-1 against changing it.

The court’s three judge panel, which found that the council had acted correctly, ruled: “There is no doubt that to many people in Canada in the 21st century, the swastika is an abhorrent symbol, reminiscent of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis during World War Two. While council’s decision…likely does not accord with the beliefs of many Canadians…there is no basis for finding that council’s decisions were unlawful.”

Since then, however, three of the five township councillors, including the mayor, have changed. More importantly, both Kinsella and Guzar argue there have been major changes in public attitudes about racism and hatred.

At the same time, there has been a spike in incidents of antisemitism around the world – the centuries old hatred that found its fullest modern expression under the Swastika flag of Nazi Germany.

“What has happened is that the murder of (George) Floyd) and the whole the Black Lives Matter movement has really awoken people to the importance of tolerance issues generally,” Kinsella said.

Warren Kinsella

“For the Jewish community, given the massive outbreak in antisemitism and vandalism, this is the least this community can do. We’re not asking them to give us money. We’re not asking them to do anything other than be decent human beings and remove this name.

“There’s no time in human history when I’ve seen a greater popular response to racism and bigotry than there is right now,” he added. “What has happened this spring, in the middle of a pandemic, is extraordinary and that tells us we’re on the right side, that people are with us and we just have to make them aware of what is happening.”

Guzar argues that while the swastika may be an ancient symbol, it is too closely linked to Nazi-era atrocities ever to be rehabilitated and “does not belong in a multicultural, diverse and tolerant Canada.”

“The swastika is the symbol of the most homicidal expression of hatred that ever existed. It is the literal embodiment of racism and anti-Semitism, homophobia and genocide,” he said. “This is a modern Canada and it’s time that this name be retired.”

Despite changes on council, Guzar said he doesn’t sense a change in attitude.

“From the very first when we started our effort to retire this street name we have had no support from the township and that’s the current flavor today,” he said. “I’m very disappointed in council’s indifference to this name and their use of tax dollars to defend it in court. We would expect our council to stand up and condemn hatred and change this street name.”

In an e-mail exchange Puslinch Mayor James Seeley “politely” refused to comment. Paul Wysznski, whose company owns the road, could not be reached for comment.

14 Comments

  1. Darcy Wallace says:

    Great work by the STAMP team.

    Warren, as part of your campaign are you also asking cottagers whether the name of this street is influencing property values & saleability? There is a type of person who may not be motivated by doing the correct thing morally but who can be motivated by their own self-interest. Good luck!

  2. May God be with you all.

    • Max says:

      Ronald, care to opine where your God was when the Holocaust was going down? Why wasn’t he “with” the victims?

      • Max,

        In my Christian teachings, more particularly, the Roman Catholic tradition, one is taught that this world is governed by individual and collective free will, bestowed by God.

        From that point, it’s up to each individual to choose his or her course in life. Sometimes the individual and the collectivity will choose to follow God’s teachings and sometimes will choose to go down another route.

        By in the end, good inevitably overcomes and defeats evil. So, that’s where I’m coming from. People are free to believe as I do, or not. And my principles are no better than yours and my answer is not necessarily right or wrong.

        • Max says:

          Ah, yes. The ‘ole “thoughts and prayers” vale/belief/principle.
          Pence and the Evangelicals are working on that very value. belief and principal you both share. And here we are. Good luck with that.

  3. Westguy says:

    Isn’t there a risk that some Toronto bigwig swooping in on local politics might galvanize the other side? Speaking rurally, it’s not popular when someone from outside gets involved in “our” business. Could this generate support for candidates who run not to support the name but to push back against nosey outsiders?

    • Ronald O'Dowd says:

      Westguy,

      Those who don’t want outsiders involved in their business are also perfectly capable of rejecting the primary Nazi symbol. How anyone could defend that is simply beyond me.

  4. DJ Wells says:

    I mean this is great and all but damn there’s an entire TOWN beside Kirkland Lake with a similar problem 🙂

    • You Can Take The Girl Out of the North says:

      It’s more of a little hamlet within the city limits, but yes. I believe the last round of “Let’s make this name more palatable” resulted in “To hell with Hitler! We had the name first!”

  5. Miles Lunn says:

    It needs to change. Yes when named, it referred to ancient Eastern symbol which had positive meanings, but almost everyone associates the Swastika with the Nazis and the horrors of the Nazi regime so it needs to go out of respect for many who suffered from it. There are plenty of other names that honour Eastern religions without negative history like Swastika. Its offensive to the Jewish community and every other group targeted by Hitler’s Third Reich so name needs to change.

  6. Chris Sigvaldason says:

    Every year in September back in the 80s and 90s (and probably earlier) there would be a story in the University of Manitoba student paper about some freshman who was apauled and horrified by the Swastikas laid in the tile floor of the 1920’s-era Tache Hall dormitory building. And every year, the following week, another story appeared where various history and anthropology profs would explain that those are Buddhist symbols (the arms faced counter-clockwise, versus the clockwise Nazi version). Today’s society has long given up on context, history, education and examination. “Tear that motherf***r down!”

    • Ronald O'Dowd says:

      Chris,

      So-called proper intellectual context changes nothing. A swastika is still a swastika.

    • Robert White says:

      Even the Ivy League learneds in tertiary education full well know that the swastika is a universally recognized symbol of hatred. Canada has no room or space allocated for hatred. Our commons require universal condemnation of these historical symbols of hate so that we may collectively live in some semblance of peace, and hopefully prosperity.

      RW

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