Police make arrest after fire for signs of hate crime

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York Regional Police have arrested a man as part of a hate crime investigation after a small Ontario community’s anti-racism efforts burned to the ground.Residents of Schomberg, a village of 2,700 people about 70 km north of Toronto, have been posting about 200 “Black Lives Matter” and “Indigenous Lives Matter” signs on their lawns and belongings since the beginning of July. effort to express solidarity with the global wave of protests against systemic discrimination.

But late last week, someone sent a message to a community Facebook group expressing outrage at the campaign and threatening to destroy some of the signs.

Then, in the early morning of August 11, six of the Indigenous Lives Matter signs disappeared from the village’s historic main street and were set on fire in a nearby park.

The remains of stolen signs of Aboriginal life that were burned in Schomberg, Ontario. York Regional Police have arrested a man as part of a hate crimes investigation. (John Badcock / CBC)

York Regional Police staged a dramatic midday raid on Thursday, shutting down the village’s business district, as members of the force’s emergency response team arrested a suspicious man as he stood outside his apartment on Main Street, smoking. They then executed a search warrant on his second-floor unit, looking for evidence of an accelerator, according to an officer at the scene. A police spokesperson confirmed that the force’s Hate Crimes Unit was monitoring their investigation.

The name of the suspect and details of the charges have not yet been released, but sources tell CBC News that this is the same person whose name and photo were attached to the Facebook post.

“I feel pretty relieved,” said Susan Heslop, who administers the Schomberg community Facebook group, and forwarded a screenshot of the threat to police the morning it was taken. Heslop said an officer then called her and told her he spoke to the suspect who was “letting off steam.”

Now she wonders if more should have been done.

“Someone left this slide,” she said. “And this guy is walking around town thinking he’s made it.” “

Members of the York Regional Police Emergency Response Team took over Main Street in Schomberg, Ont., On August 13, as they made an arrest in connection with a hate crime investigation. (Shannon McMaster / Facebook)

CBC News reviewed an image of the threatening post, which Heslop declined to approve for posting to the forum. He used racist language and referred to recent land protests by Six Nations members in Caledonia, near Hamilton, Ontario. The threat only targeted the ‘Indigenous Lives Matters’ signs and warned that they would be burned – details that were not made public until Thursday’s arrest.

“If they think about it[[[[sic]Lives are so important, so they wouldn’t violate the laws or prevent us (as in all races) from using our roads, ”one reads in part.

The suspect was released and charged with mischief and threats, police said.

‘This is a hateful statement’

Greg Locke, a resident of Main Street, was among the first to notice the missing signs, when he stepped out to collect his newspaper early Thursday morning. A little later, he took his border collie Flynn for a walk to the fairgrounds in the nearby village and found the charred remains of several of the red and white plastic signs on a path. The fire had been hot enough to melt the asphalt.

“It’s a hateful statement,” said Locke, who has lived in Schomberg for 14 years. The vandalism sparked outrage in the community, he said. “We are offended. We are offended that we have someone who thinks that about our aboriginal aboriginal groups.

The lawn signs were designed by neighbors Alicia Turner and Michelle Hubert, an American couple who moved to Schomberg in 2010.

They were moved by the global Black Lives Matter protests, Turner said, but thought that holding their own small protest in a small village wouldn’t have much impact. Instead, they hired another neighbor to print the solidarity messages, paying the costs out of their own pockets.

“When you see a sign of pride, or a pride flag, you feel like it’s a safe place to be,” Turner explained. “And I wanted to be really visible and present. A continuing sign that this was a safe place for Indigenous and Black people, and people of color in general.

Alicia Turner, who has launched a campaign to display Black Lives Matter and Indigenous Lives Matter signs around the village of Schomberg, Ont., Said the vandalism strengthens her community’s resolve. (John Badcock / CBC)

Like the rest of Canada, Schomberg is increasingly diverse, but the village remains extremely white. According to 2016 census data, only 120 people considered themselves visible minorities, most of them Latin American, Asian or South Asian. There were no Black residents at the time, but 40 people reported being of Indigenous descent – 25 First Nations and 15 Métis.

More signs to come

Initially, the couple printed only 15 signs, for themselves and a couple of friends, with a few extras in case of vandalism. But demand was strong, and in the end, they returned to the printer two more times, orders totaling over 200. Many were handed out from their front porch on Canada Day.

The last of the signs was used to replace the stolen and burned Wednesday. Today, Turner and Hubert plan to place a much larger order.

Initially, Turner and his partner only received 15 printed panels, but that number has grown to over 200 due to community demand. After burning the panel, they plan to place an even bigger order. (John Badcock / CBC)

“People really want more signs. They have been very positive, ”Turner said. “It’s definitely the kind of tight-knit community that we are and want to be. ”

On Thursday afternoon, the community’s Facebook page was filled with messages of celebration and support as news of the arrest spread. “Not in our town!” One proclaimed, “Good riddance,” said another.

“We’re not going to be intimidated or intimidated,” Heslop said. “We are taking a stand and we are going to fight. We are not going to remove our signs because someone doesn’t like them. “

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