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OPP investigating rainbow crosswalk defacement at Orillia school

'It's important that everybody feels safe and everybody can express themselves how they want,' said OPP official of potential hate-motivated crime
The rainbow crosswalk at Orillia Secondary School was defaced over the weekend, Orillia OPP officials said.

After its installation just a week ago, the rainbow crosswalk at Orillia Secondary School (OSS) was defaced over the weekend, Orillia OPP officials say.

One end of the crosswalk, meant to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, has been smeared with white paint, and traffic cones and caution tape were set up around the vandalized area Monday morning.

OPP Const. Brett Boniface said police are actively investigating the matter.

OPP will be looking into the incident as a potentially hate-motivated crime, which Boniface distinguished from hate crimes.

“The term hate crime is largely misused — we have what we call hate-motivated crimes,” he explained. “There are very specific crimes in the Criminal Code that can be deemed a hate crime. With something like this, there is a lens we do use: is it hate motivated or bias motivated? We would look at it from that lens.”

Last week, an OSS student shared their concerns over increased targeting and bullying of LGBTQ+ students after the school’s Canadian flag was replaced with the Pride flag for Pride Month, calling for the flag to be taken down or displayed alongside the Canadian flag in a petition. 

Boniface said it’s “unfortunate” students have felt targeted for their identities, and stressed people have the right to express who they are.

“That's unfortunate that people have that feeling, and that they don't feel safe. It's important that everybody feels safe and everybody can express themselves how they want,” he said.

“That’s what our Canadian rights and freedoms stand for, and that’s something the police strongly support," said Boniface.

Arrangements are being made to repair the crosswalk, Simcoe County District School Board officials said, adding creating a safe environment for all is a priority.

"We are committed to maintaining a safe, inviting, and supportive school environment at Orillia Secondary School and recognize that all students have the right to be safe, and feel safe, in our school community," said Sarah Kekewich, the school board's manager of communications, who encouraged anyone with information regarding the incident to reach out to the OPP or Crime Stoppers.

"We continue to work with students, staff, parents/guardians, and community partners to ensure that Orillia Secondary School is the safe place it is intended to be for all students," Kekewich said. "Information about this incident has been shared with families and students impacted have been invited to visit the guidance department should they require support."

Caleb Kenehan, president of Fierté Simcoe Pride, said he was "saddened to hear of the defacement of an important symbol of inclusion."

"When acts of vandalism towards symbols of inclusion happen, it sends a profound message that someone is not welcome for who they are," Kenehan said. "By taking seriously the defacement, as a result, you also take seriously the value of inclusion in education."

Kenehan said Fierté Simcoe Pride views these types of incident as motivated by hate, and encouraged school boards to continue showing support for the LGBTQ+ community.

"Fierté Simcoe Pride also encourages the local schools boards to continue to show support to the 2SLGBTQIA community, even in the face of criticism or vandalism," he said. "We believe the value of inclusion in the school system to have a strong impact on the well-being of 2SLGBTQIA students."

Hate motivated crimes with regard to sexuality and gender "have been on the rise," and nearly doubled in the past two years, Kenehan said, citing Statistics Canada reports.

"Fierté Simcoe Pride recognizes this and takes this seriously," he said. "Some of the actions we have taken on include signing on to the Facts Over Fear campaign by Momentum in response to the rising anti-2SLGBTQIA rhetoric. We also prioritize 2SLGBTQIA programming inclusive for youth both during pride season and year round."

Greg McGrath-Goudie

About the Author: Greg McGrath-Goudie

Greg has been with Village Media since 2021, where he has worked as an LJI reporter for CollingwoodToday, and now as a city hall/general assignment reporter for OrilliaMatters
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