According to section two of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a Canadian citizen may say just about anything they want.
That being said, saying, or –spraying – what you think or feel isn’t always the best idea.
To deface a mural dedicated to murdered transgender women of colour is one of the worst ways to use this fundamental freedom. That’s exactly what happened on Sept. 24.
The mural, at the corner of Bank and Somerset street, had been sprayed over with messages which read: “RACIST BULLSHIT,” “ALL COLORS MATTER” and perhaps most menacingly, “ALL LIVES MATTER NO DOUBLE STANDARD YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.”
Of course, having the vandalism removed is one thing, but removing the message is an entirely different ordeal. Just because you can’t see racism, doesn’t mean that it’s not there.
The mural was painted during Ottawa’s Pride Week in a mindset akin to the Black Lives Matter movement that was popularized by the Twitter hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that there’s been vandalism that discourages the Black Lives Matter movement in our nation’s capital.
In late July two artists, Kalkidan Assefa and Allan Andre, painted a mural of Sandra Bland, a black woman from Illinois who was found dead in a Texas jail. Before the day came to an end, the mural at the tech wall, which is a popular permission wall for graffiti artists to write, had been vandalized.
The vandals had painted a white moustache over the mural, along with a message saying, “all lives matter.” A group of Ottawa artists retouched the painting, restoring it as best as they could.
Cassandra Dickie, the visual arts coordinator for House of Paint, an organization that promotes urban art, explained to CBC that there are unwritten rules about writing over other pieces in the graffiti community and that the vandals did not follow them.
She also said that she does not believe that Ottawa’s graffiti community was responsible for the defacement.
Vandalism, which in these legal graffiti zones is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, can still oppress another Canadians’ right to express themselves.
The story gets worse though. Neither of these instances were the first example of Black Lives Matter paintings being defaced in Ottawa.
A week beforehand, a group named BlackColletiv had painted over a portion of the tech wall with white block letters that spelled out BLACK LIVES MATTER. The next day some of Ottawa’s veteran graffiti writers painted over the message.
One of those artists was Mike Gall. He explained in an interview with Metro that it wasn’t an act of oppression but that they were frustrated that their work had been painted over without their consent, regardless of their message.
“When we’re saying ‘black lives matter’ in an era where we talk specifically about black lives because they’re under attack,” said Assefa, in an interview with CBC. “To erase that and write ‘all lives matter’ over it that’s completely erasing what we’re trying to do.”
Whether you agree with the motive or meaning of a piece of art is entirely your own opinion and choice. To deface that piece of art because you disagree with it is not an effective way of dealing with the issue. It’s censorship. And in this case, it’s even racist.
To let it slide, would be nothing less than complicit.