WARSAW — Peterborough County OPP have launched an investigation after a Pride flag was set on fire at Warsaw Public School in Douro-Dummer Township.
The flag was removed from the school’s flagpole and burned over the weekend — sometime between 4:30 p.m. on Friday and 8:30 a.m. on Monday, police said Tuesday.
Police were contacted Monday morning when a school employee discovered the damaged flag, Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board chair Diane Lloyd told The Examiner.
“Whoever burned it had put it in the doorway. The custodian found it when she came to school,” Lloyd said.
The school has 131 students from junior kindergarten to Grade 8.
Lloyd said she’s disappointed by the “disturbing” incident.
The universally recognized rainbow-coloured flag is a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirited pride.
“It’s troubling when we hear something like this has happened. It in no way reflects the values of our staff or our students or our community,” Lloyd said.
“We’ve gone out of our way to ensure that our schools are safe places for all of us to be a part of,” she continued, adding that the board has done extensive work to “promote equity, diversity and inclusiveness.”
“It’s not something we tolerate, and we’ve called the OPP and we’ll be waiting to see what they find out,” Lloyd said.
Police are turning to the public for help with the ongoing investigation. They’re urging anyone with information about the incident to come forward.
“Any witnesses or anyone with video footage is asked to contact the Peterborough County OPP Detachment,” Const. Joe Ayotte told The Examiner by email.
According to Ayotte, the Provincial Anti-Terrorism and Hate Crime/Extremism Section of the Peterborough County OPP has been notified.
Police are currently treating the incident as mischief — but that could change.
The inquiry could become a hate crime investigation if, for example, a suspect is found and indicates the crime was motivated by hate or bias toward a sexual orientation or if the crime coincides with an event of significance to the victims’ community.
Ayotte said the OPP “takes these crimes very seriously.”
“The impact of hate/bias motivated crime is far reaching, extending beyond the physical and emotional trauma of the victim, to encompass other members of the group and broader community. If unchecked, these crimes can result in an escalation in social tensions between different groups that can destroy communities, thereby furthering the aims and objectives of those in our society who promote hatred and intolerance,” he said.
The incident coincided with Peterborough Pride Week, which began on Friday and continues until this Sunday.
“We are deeply saddened to hear of the vandalism of the rainbow flag at the Warsaw Public School,” Rick Lambert, a member of the Peterborough Pride Committee, said in an interview.
“The cowardly act of vandalism may seem like a setback, but it is really just a reminder that there is still work to be done and that we cannot take our rights and freedoms for granted,” Lambert said.
Lambert added that the theme of Pride Week in Peterborough this year is “Change Starts Here.”
“We all need to make it our business to change the structures and culture that allow discrimination to continue to exist even here in Canada,” Lambert said.
Douro-Dummer Coun. Heather Watson told The Examiner she was “disheartened” to learn of the vandalism at Warsaw Public School.
“It’s certainly troubling and sad, particularly in our small community. We’re a community that generally comes together and supports one another. When we see something like this, it hurts my spirit and the spirit of the community,” said Watson.
“I’m hoping that as the police put out a request for anybody with information about the incident that people will come forward so that we can get to the bottom of it and get some sort of resolution,” she added.
Anyone with information can call Peterborough County OPP at 705-742-0401 or 1-888-310-1122. Tips can also be provided to Crime Stoppers anonymously by calling 1-800-222-8477.
Brendan Burke is a staff reporter at the Examiner, based in Peterborough. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.
Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Peterborough Examiner