Toronto police are investigating after a clothing shop window was smashed and red paint was splattered in front of its door. The store, D'Mila Accessories, posted to Instagram account a man's t-shirt, in white and black, with a large "Z" across the front.
However, the letter Z has become a political symbol of support among some for the Russian army against Ukraine. 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 civilian.
"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." "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.
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, says 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. Mike Stein, who works at the bike shop next door to the clothing shop, said he never saw 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."