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 this 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.
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.
“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.