On the morning of Election Day 2006, my team arrived at the campaign office to find that the lock to the front door had been glued shut. We called the property manager and immediately he came down to let us in through the back door. He had recently immigrated to Canada from Afghanistan. He immediately said, “Oh dear, I didn’t know this kind of thing happened in Canada, too”. His comments at the time have stayed with us forever.
Sign vandalism is an expensive and unfortunately predictable aspect of Canadian political campaigns. Signs are smashed and cut in half. Signs are stolen. Moustaches painted on the photos of the candidates. Sometimes more hateful things like swastikas are painted on the signs or “homo” is written on signs of gay candidates. All of this is often attributed to kids and literally written off as the signs are replaced and the extra expense incurred.
But in 2008 campaigns saw an ugly transformation. In St. Paul’s, citizens displaying Liberal signs were victimized — brake lines were cut and ‘L’s were keyed in the enamel of their cars, and anti-Liberal graffiti in aluminum paint was sprayed on the walls of homes. Police at 53 Division conducted an intensive investigation. Unfortunately no one was ever caught.
Fast forward to April 23 in Election 2011… at 9:50 a.m. we got the first report of tires having been slashed on a car in the driveway of a home with a Bennett sign on their lawn. The calls kept coming all day. Sometimes all eight tires if there were two cars in the driveway. One home didn’t have a sign this year because they had been targeted in 2008. Nonetheless the perpetrator hit them again. This time they had installed a security camera so for the first time the police had actual footage of the perpetrator.
Again this year, we feel the right thing to do was to leave a voice drop to all the homes displaying Bennett signs to alert them and allow them to decide if they wanted to continue to display the Bennett sign.
Many felt they needed to take their sign down; many others replaced their small sign with a large sign. All expressed they were upset that they had been targeted because they were actively participating in our democratic process. Yet again, citizens were being intimidated and some had their lives placed at risk. Again the words of the Afghani-Canadian reverberated … surely not here in Canada.
We do not believe that any of the other campaigns were responsible for these criminal acts. However, we must speak out against those people whose rhetoric and actions can incite the kind of hatred that can motivate this kind of behaviour.
As several victims are in financial difficulty (one family was attacked three nights in a row), we have launched a fund-raising drive and have set up a PayPal account to accept donations for those affected by the vandalism. Your support is much appreciated. Call Lynne Steele in my office 416-952-3990 if you are able to help in any way.
This kind of intimidation has no place in any democracy. We hope that we will be able to find the perpetrators so that we can demonstrate that this behaviour certainly has no place in Canada. Not now, not ever.
I want to thank the people of St. Paul’s for sending me back to Ottawa to work on behalf of all of the citizens. It is indeed an honour and a responsibility that I take very seriously.
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