A large statue of Mahatma Gandhi was defaced at a Hindu temple in Richmond Hill on Wednesday and police say it's being investigated as a hate crime.
The statue, which is five metres high, was vandalized at Vishnu Mandir in the area of Yonge Street and Garden Avenue, according to York Regional Police. Officers were called to the area at about 12:30 p.m.
Const. Amy Boudreau, spokesperson for York Regional Police, said someone defaced the statue with "graphic words," including "rapist" and "Khalistan" — the name given to the concept of a Sikh-dominated homeland separate from India that independence activists have long demanded.
Gandhi was seen as the main leader of India's independence movement in the 1940s. He was known for promoting non-violent civil disobedience in the campaign to free India from British rule.
Police said they consider it a "hate bias motivated incident."
"York Regional Police does not tolerate hate crime in any form," Boudreau said.
"Those who victimize others based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, age, gender, gender identity, gender expression and the like will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," she added.
"We recognize that community-wide impact of hate crimes is far reaching and we do vigorously investigate all occurrences of hate crimes and any hate bias incidents."
Dr. Budhendra Doobay, chairman of the temple, said the statue has been at its current location, a peace park, for more than 30 years. It has never been vandalized in any way, he said. The defacing was found early Wednesday.
"Besides a feeling of a disgust, I was disappointed," he said.
"We live so peacefully in Richmond Hill here for so many years and nothing, nothing, nothing has ever happened like this. The graffiti is in such big black letters. ... We hope these things don't happen. But what can you do?" he said.
"If we can live the way that Gandhi taught us to live, then we will not cause hurt to anyone or any community."
Doobay said the graffiti is like a violation or an assault where all dignity has been removed.
Both the Consulate General of India in Toronto and the High Commission of India in Ottawa condemned the vandalism in statements on Twitter. Both said they have contacted Canadian officials about the crime.
The Consulate General said it is "distressed" and called it a "criminal, hateful act of vandalism."The High Commission said it is "deeply anguished" and that the crime has led to "increased concern and insecurity" in the Indian community.