Taking on hate speech graffiti with a power washer

MONTREAL - As Corey Fleischer's boxy white truck dipped through muddy ruts just off a Montreal highway, the 34-year-old Canadian issued a warning:

"It's going to get real sticky, it's going to get real dirty," he said, pulling his truck to a stop next to a fence. "This is basically what most of my removals are like. They're in areas that are very hard to reach."

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Corey Fleischer, owner of Provincial Power Washing in Montreal, tackles hate speech graffiti in his free time.
CBS News

He slid his door open, and made for a hole in the fence, pulling his hose behind him. Through the fence, and down a wooded slope, he emerged at an overpass, just feet from train tracks that feed commuters into the heart of his city.

Dressed in black pants, with a black vest and black shades, Fleischer surveyed a wall plastered with graffiti that covers so much of Montreal. Over the layers and layers of tags and bubble letters, he set to work on his real target: a neon yellow swastika and a racial epithet.

He applied a cocktail of paint removal chemicals, then aimed his power washing spray gun and blasted away the markings.

"Now no one's able to see it from the highway anymore and the hate crime's gone."

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Hate speech "exists in multiple forms, graffiti just happens to be one of them," Fleischer told CBS News. "I'm not able to erase all hate crimes all over the place, but anything with paint, anything with spray paint, I'm able to remove."
CBS News

This is Fleischer's mission. As owner of Provincial Power Washing, he removes regular graffiti for a fee. But hate speech, he removes for free.

He often finds the markings on his own.

"When I'm traveling on a street like this, I'm always scanning. I'm scanning left, I'm scanning right. I'm seeing what's on the walls," he told CBS News on a recent tour of the city. "And that's how I find a lot of my graffiti."

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Fleischer is now raising money to build a network to combat hate speech graffiti across Canada.
CBS News

Some of the markings are reported to him by community members tired of seeing homophobic slurs, racial epithets or anti-Semitic symbols in their neighborhoods. Sometimes he'll come across a swastika, still visible even after someone else has attempted to paint over it or cross it out.

"They don't have the means to remove it," he said, standing next to a swastika with a line painted through it. "I have the equipment. I have the experience. I have the know-how in order to remove all these markings and that's what I've been doing."

"I would say this is probably the 20th swastika I've removed in the past month and a half."

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People ask me why I put this before my business," Fleischer said. "It's more important than anything I have in my business, so that's my response to them on that."
CBS News

Fleischer is the rare mix of a Good Samaritan with the necessary means to combat hate speech graffiti, and the will.

"Other than the fact that I'm Jewish and that it affects me personally to see these anti-Semitic markings, the way that it makes people feel and the reaction that I see off of these people from me removing it, it's worth it all."

He's become something of a local hero.

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Harvey Levine, Quebec regional director of B'nai Brith Canada, a Jewish advocacy group, calls Fleischer "the Lone Ranger of graffiti."
CBS News

"He's like the Lone Ranger of graffiti and an absolute superstar," said Harvey Levine, Quebec regional director of B'nai Brith Canada, a Jewish advocacy group that works with Fleischer to find and remove hate speech graffiti.

"It's his, as we say in French, his raison d'etre, his cause and his focus."

Fleischer is now raising money to build a network to combat hate speech graffiti across Canada.

"There's no real place where hate hides. Hate and hate crimes, they're everywhere," he said. "There's anti-Semitic hate. There's racially driven hate. There's homophobic hate. It exists in multiple forms. Graffiti just happens to be one of them.

"I'm not able to erase all hate crimes all over the place, but anything with paint, anything with spray paint, I'm able to remove."

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    Alexander is a digital reporter for CBSNews.com. He previously worked as a multimedia reporter for POLITICO, where he covered the 2012 presidential campaign.