People in the town of Minto, Ont., are supporting the local LGBTQ community after Pride decorations were cut up and destroyed in acts of vandalism that police are calling hate-motivated crimes.
Between June 4 and 13, Pride flags at schools in Listowel, Harriston, Drayton and Mapleton were torn down, cut up and shredded, say Ontario Provincial Police (OPP).
Over that same period, streets in Palmerston and Harriston were twice stripped of virtually all Pride decorations, Const. Joshua Cunningham told CBC News.
"The focus seemed to be eradication — complete removal — of all of them," in Palmerston and Harriston, said Cunningham.
At the beginning of the month, members of Minto Pride had wrapped bands of fabric around light standards lining the streets in Palmerston, Harriston and Clifford, the communities that make up Minto, a town of about 9,000.
In one surveillance video, posted to Twitter by the OPP, a person can be seen scaling a flag pole "and manhandling, grabbing and ripping down the flag," said Cunningham. A photo distributed by police shows a rainbow flag torn down the side and cut into six pieces.
"It seemed the goal was not to damage the flag, but to destroy the flag," he said. "We're treating it as a hate-motivated crime."
Message to youth
Caitlin Hall, one of the founding members of Minto Pride, said that in past years, they've had Pride flags go missing, but there's never been anything on this scale.
"It's beyond little acts of mischief to something that was a little more worrisome and offensive," said Hall, adding she's most concerned about what message is being sent to youth who saw Pride flags torn down from outside their schools.
"I'm worried more for kids or young people that might be thinking about coming out or who recently have come out and were maybe starting to feel this was a safe place ... to have that very visual reminder that, 'OK, there are still people that have a problem with me and who I am."
It has Hall feeling parts of her community are still "way behind the times in terms of being the loving, accepting, open community we're trying hard to have Minto be," she said.
But an outpouring of support at a Pride event on Sunday has Hall and Minto Mayor George Bridge feeling optimistic the vandals are a minority in the community.
Community replaces decorations
"We had over 300 people — for a small town — at our Pride picnic," said Bridge. "In fact, we had quite a few people come out to support the event because of the previous vandalism — they felt that it doesn't reflect the true nature of what the town is, and I truly believe that."
"It was a great community display of love and acceptance," agreed Hall.
Now, some of those community members and businesses are banding together to pay to replace the decorations, which were all paid for by the Pride committee.
Most want to stay anonymous, said Hall, and aren't looking for recognition — instead donating money to replace the rainbow fabric that was torn from the light standards.
On Friday, they'll install new fabric bands on the light standards in Palmerston and Harrison, in solidarity with Minto Pride.
"It's business and community that's really coming together and not standing for this," said Ron McTaggart, owner of the Foodland in Palmerston.
"Right after it happened, we had businesses reach out to our [economic development staff] and say, 'We'll replace their stuff,'" said Bridge.
"And that's an example of what this community's really about."