Pembroke community angry at vandalism of mural promoting diversity

·3 min read
Photographs released by the Ontario Provincial Police show a mural at Algonquin College's Pembroke campus was damaged after getting sprayed by vandals with a white substance. (Submitted by Ontario Provincial Police - image credit)
Photographs released by the Ontario Provincial Police show a mural at Algonquin College's Pembroke campus was damaged after getting sprayed by vandals with a white substance. (Submitted by Ontario Provincial Police - image credit)

Some people in Pembroke, Ont., are expressing their anger and disappointment after a mural promoting diversity was vandalized on the Algonquin College Pembroke campus.

Photographs of the scene show a white substance on the mural featuring people of colour, with most of it on the face of an Indigenous woman and a Black person.

Ontario police said two men were seen spraying the mural on the night of the incident on Aug. 21, but declined to confirm what the white substance was.

Claude Brulé, president of Algonquin College, said the mural called Stronger Together was created to promote diversity, equity and inclusion and was painted in collaboration with the community.

Submitted by Ontario Provincial Police
Submitted by Ontario Provincial Police

"The art really represents diversity in all its forms," he said.

Although the police are still investigating, Brulé said "it's quite possible" the people behind the incident were motivated by intolerance.

Community connection

The damage occurred a few days before the official unveiling of the mural on Aug. 25. The college tried to restore the piece as best it could, but Brulé said further touch-ups will be needed to fix the lasting damage.

Brulé said the college is looking into protecting the mural in the future by installing plexiglass panels or some other barrier.

To have this senseless act has me very angry. - Garland Wong, Algonquin College

The outdoor mural was painted earlier this year and means a lot to the community and people of colour, said Duane Gastant' Aucoin, who is Indigenous and lives in the city.

"It was like a breath of fresh air," he said. "Finally, we had a mural that acknowledged us."

Gastant' Aucoin said he thinks it's "blatantly racist" that the vandals chose to use a white substance over the faces of Black, Indigenous and people of colour.

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

"That's intolerance and I honestly believe that's a hate crime," he said, adding he's worried a lack of consequences could embolden other people to follow suit.

Garland Wong, a proctor at the college and a co-chair of Pembroke's diversity advisory committee, said he was disappointed to hear about the damage to the "beautiful mural."

"To have this senseless act has me very angry," he said.

More work to be done

In his work with the diversity committee so far, Wong said he knows many members of the community, including the college, have been supportive of efforts to educate and raise awareness about racism.

But, he said, there remains a small percentage of people who aren't on board.

It just goes to show that there's work to be done. - Suli Adams, Pembroke diversity committee

"There's always going to be people out there that are going to push back on diversity," he said.

Suli Adams, also a co-chair of the city's diversity committee, said racism has always been an issue, and the pandemic and economic uncertainty have made things worse.

"It's a sign of the times," she said.

Adams said the vandalism is disappointing, especially given the positive response from community members in recent efforts to improve diversity in Pembroke.

"It just goes to show that there's work to be done."

OPP Const. Mike Mahon said investigators have "no information" on whether the vandalism is racially- or hate-motivated, and an investigation is ongoing.

Police are asking for the public's help to identify two suspects, and are urging anyone with information to come forward or contact Pembroke Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.