Editorial note: On Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, this article was updated to reflect Queen’s University’s statement that they have had no reported anti-Newfoundland or anti-Quebec graffiti on campus.
Kingston and Gananoque residents hailing from Quebec or Newfoundland and Labrador may have had some jarring experiences lately, as numerous disturbing instances of targeted hate graffiti have been spotted in various parks, bridges, apartment properties and bathroom stalls in frequently trafficked areas within those municipalities.
While written offensive public expressions are unfortunately not a rare occurrence in the area, what sets these examples apart from more common vandalism is that they appear to be specifically targeting residents with French and Newfoundland origins, perhaps hinting at a bizarre uptick in xenophobia for these groups that have historically been marginalized by the rest of Canada.
While some seemed initially confused by the ‘frog’ label used in the graffiti, the epithet’s history of usage as a derogatory term for both French-Canadians and their French ancestors is rather storied. Some say that it is a stereotypical reference to the consumption of frog legs in France, while others cite that it was a label used by both residents of Versailles and Paris in reference to each other in tandem over the course of the 19th century. Montreal-based blogger, Matthew Barlow, also sheds more light on the offensive term’s usage in his writings. History aside, the label is now considered universally offensive when used to refer to someone of French heritage.
“It’s disgusting,” commented Quebecer Elodie Bergeron, after seeing one of the graffiti images in Kingston depicting French Canadians as ‘frogs.’ “There is already enough division going on in today’s climate and they want to sow more, based on what? Being from Quebec? Being a Newfoundlander? We deserve more respect than this – much more.”
In some ways, Newfoundlanders are accustomed to discrimination in mainland Canada, especially in blue-collar work environments, where they are often plagued with being the butt of stereotypical ‘Newfie jokes,’ which hatefully depict people from the province as unintelligent, exploitative, lazy, and sexually promiscuous. These viral jibes were popularized throughout North America shortly after Newfoundland and Labrador’s confederation as Canada’s tenth province in 1949, along with the term ‘Newfie’ – which was invented as a derogatory slur for Newfoundlanders by United States military personnel stationed in Newfoundland during the WWII. The term has since been partially reclaimed as a term of endearment within the province, but for many islanders, ‘Newfie’ and ‘Newf’ are still offensive slurs when used in a negative connotation by mainlanders.
Former Ontario and Kingston resident Shelby Ryan spoke up about the graffiti, as well, saying that while she hadn’t experienced any noteworthy discrimination herself for being a Newfoundlander in Ontario, members of her household had seen such xenophobic graffiti many times before, and had endured similar attitudes of hate and exclusion.
“I always thought that sort of attitude towards us [Newfoundlanders] died out in the 80s. It’s weird and somewhat alarming to see it now. My family has often said that on job sites, you don’t get referred to by your name; they just call you ‘Newfie’ and give you the crappiest jobs at the site. You don’t want to stir the pot by complaining about it. My Pop did though, back in the day. When the boys told him to go back to Newfoundland, he told his coworkers: ‘I’m Canadian, get over it – we had to!’ And I thought that was hilarious,” Ryan said over social media.
While Kingston Police could not be reached for comment by the time of this article’s publication, examples of the hate-speech graffiti are reportedly spray-painted or written in marker at locations in Lake Ontario Park, Tim Hortons on Division Street, Bell Tower Apartments in Gananoque, and inside washroom stalls of Queen’s University — the latter of which was reported to Kingstonist by a Queen’s University student, who said they had reported the graffiti to police in the spring.
Queen’s University Principal Patrick Deane said that he was unaware of the existence of the alleged hate-graffiti on the university campus, but elaborated that such incidents violate the Queen’s University Code of Conduct.
“I’m sure there are folks in the University who are aware of this, and have been monitoring it, and are having to take action. I will inquire, and I mean – what I can say is that this is the kind of thing that is completely in violation of a number of our policies. And any activity that spreads hate or is disrespectful to members of the community is something that we won’t accept,” Deane said.
Although Kingston Police did not respond to formal requests for comment on the matter, they did suggest that residents who see hate speech or derogatory language in graffiti should report those instances to police for further investigation.
On Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, Queen’s University stated they “have had no reported incidents of anti-Newfoundland or anti-Quebec graffiti” on campus.