Toronto police are investigating after a clothing shop window was smashed and red paint was splattered in front of its door early Tuesday in what may be a reaction to the display of a symbol that’s seen as pro-Russian.
The store, D’Mila Accessories, at 533 Richmond St. W., had images on its Instagram account on Monday of a man’s t-shirt, in white and black, with a large “Z” across the front. The images were removed by Tuesday.
Experts say the letter Z has become widely known as a political symbol of support for the Russian army in the invasion of Ukraine. The store’s Instagram account contains a woman’s name in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet.
Police were notified at about 1 a.m., according to Const. Jenifferjit Sidhu. The police hate crime unit is now aware of the case and investigators are working to establish a motive, she said.
The store’s operator has not provided an official comment on the vandalism to CBC Toronto.
Orest Zakydalsky, senior policy adviser for the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said on Tuesday the letter Z has become a hateful symbol given the invasion itself and the atrocities attributed to the Russian military.
“It’s appalling and saddening that there’s people who are supporting a genocidal army and a genocidal Russian regime,” Zakydalsky said.
“We’ve all seen what the Russians have done in places like Bucha,” he added, referring to reports of the Russian military targeting Ukrainian civilians, sometimes killing them execution-style.
“The image itself now conjures up the war crimes and crimes against humanity that we’ve seen that Russia is committing and the images of innocent people with their hands tied, shot in the streets, of cities shelled, destroyed by artillery and airplanes and Russian bombardment.”
Zakydalsky said, however, he thinks vandalism is wrong.
“I certainly don’t condone any vandalism of any kind but it is also true that it’s easy to see why people would be upset and disgusted by glorification of a genocidal regime and an army that is committing war crimes,” he said.
‘It’s essentially treated as a swastika’
Paul Goode, an associate professor and McMillan chair of Russian studies in the Institute of European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, said the letter Z was first seen on Russian military vehicles moving into Ukraine. He said it is not a “harmless symbol” but potentially a “very disturbing statement” in support of war, if not extremism.
Some military vehicles had the letter Z painted on the side, while other vehicles, to a lesser extent, had the letter V on the side. He said the letter Z shows a “conspicuous display of loyalty” to the Kremlin.
“The Z has really become the symbol of the war,” Goode said. “Today, increasingly now, for people outraged by the war, it’s essentially treated as a swastika and understood in that way, or at least half a swastika as is often pointed out. For people who support the war, who support the regime, it’s a sign of loyalty.”
Goode said he thinks the Russian government is using the letter Z as part of an attempt to claim there is popular support for the war.
He said there has been massive effort within Russia to encourage people to display the letter Z. This effort, called astroturfing, includes getting schoolchildren to lie down in the shape of a Z, parades that form Zs with cars and giant Zs outside buildings in Russia.
“It’s supposed to give the sense that there is mass popular upsurge of support for the Z and that also means support for the war and specifically support for the regime,” he said.
Carlos Delgado, a Toronto resident who lives near the store, said he heard the sound of “somebody hitting something” in the middle of the night on Tuesday. He said he saw someone running down the street after he heard the sound.
“I don’t know why people do that,” he said. “it’s not cool. Attacking other people or destroying other locations is not the way.”
Mike Stein, who works at the bike shop next door to the clothing shop, said he shared security footage of the vandalism with police. He said he has never seen t-shirts with the letter Z in the store.
“Police said nothing was stolen. It was just — smash the windows and throw paint on it.”