'It needs to stop': Tillsonburg mayor, groups decry rainbow boardwalk vandalism

After a rainbow-coloured boardwalk was vandalized twice in two weeks, Tillsonburg’s mayor is urging anyone with information about who's responsible to contact police.

The Station Arts Centre on Bridge Street’s rainbow boardwalk – its painted colours a symbol of hope and inclusion in the LGBTQ+ community – was the target of two separate acts of vandalism in very similar circumstances in recent weeks.

That's "unacceptable," Mayor Deb Gilvesy said.

“If anyone in the community knows who's responsible for these senseless acts, I would urge them to reach out to the OPP,” she said. “It's extremely upsetting to see that it's been vandalized twice.”

The most recent incident took place June 9 after the rider of a red-and-white dirt bike used its rear tires to deface the wood and paint, police said. An earlier incident, on the night of May 27, also involved a rider on a red-and-white dirt bike.

“The investigation into both of these incidents continue and we are continuing to ask the public to share anything they know,” Oxford OPP Const. Randi Crawford said in a statement.

The OPP issued a warning ahead of pride month in June, advising would-be vandals police won't tolerate theft or damage of LGBTQ+ support symbols, including flags, and those engaged in unlawful activities may face criminal or hate-motivated crime charges.

The Station Arts Centre’s rainbow boardwalk, originally painted about a year ago, is permanent, said Gale Connor, a centre board member and volunteer.

“We are trying to promote the inclusivity of the station, so (the vandalism) does not make me happy,” Connor said. “Especially when you have someone who blatantly rides a dirt bike to specifically come and wreck the walkway and then comes back again after it's been posted out (by) the police.”

“We're obviously highly disappointed," said Tami Murray, the Oxford Pride committee president, "although I do appreciate that the OPP is definitely looking at this more from a hate crime lens this year versus previous years.”

Tillsonburg resident Gail Anderson, who was at the Station Arts Centre Friday afternoon, expressed disappointment with the property damage.

“Would you like someone to do it to your own property?” Anderson asked. “Treat others as you want to be treated, so why would you do that?”

The most recent cases of vandalism weren’t the first, Connor said. “This is about the fourth incident of somebody damaging our rainbow walk.”

And it's not the only LGBTQ+ symbol defaced in Tillsonburg.

Last year, a rainbow crosswalk near the arts centre at Broadway and Bridge Street had to be removed after it was targeted by vandals four times.

The opportunity to paint the crosswalk rainbow is still open to the organization. the mayor said.

But Murray said the Pride committee wasn't willing to use finances to replace it again “until town council looks at higher security measures and endorses or at least puts up some sort of statement about their dismay or discord.”

Connor said the brazen vandalism was unacceptable, but the arts centre would continue to restore the boardwalk.

“I mean, he's just telling us, 'We're going to keep coming,' but we're going to keep fixing it up,” Connor said.

A local high schooler was coming to the centre Friday to paint the boardwalk, she said.

The boardwalk’s defacement “needs to stop,” Gilvesy said. “I'd like to see a united community, a community that supports one another.”

bwilliams@postmedia.com

Brian Williams, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press