Skip to content

A city known for acceptance grapples with an increase in hate crimes

Citizens joined community leaders at the Stratford Pride Community Centre to discuss recent hate-motivated crimes and incidents. Stratford's Mayor-Elect said citizens have to accept that it is happening and step up and declare it is not acceptable

A rise in hate-motivated crimes is concerning for local citizens.

A few days ago, Sirkel Foods owners Kelly Ballantyne and Mel Lang reported homophobic graffiti covering the back of their business, which displays numerous Pride flags.

Just last month, eggs were thrown at the restaurant.

Stratford’s rainbow crosswalk has also been vandalized.

Numerous incidents have been reported by police departments throughout the county of Perth related to Pride flags being destroyed or damaged, mirroring events happening in the province and country. 

While it is unknown if the Stratford events are connected, the rise in hate-motivated crimes is alarming many. 

Stratford Pride Community Centre (SPCC) hosted a community meeting Wednesday night to allow citizens to discuss the recent vandalism. The whole community was invited to attend, with invitations extended to community leaders including incoming and sitting city council members, Mayor Dan Mathieson, Mayor-Elect Martin Ritsma, and Stratford Police Chief Greg Skinner.

Mathieson was out of town and unable to attend, though tweeted a statement condemning the acts of vandalism.

On behalf of city council, Ritsma offered his support to SPCC and the community. He said that it is up to the citizens of Stratford to stand up.

"It's not how we perceive ourselves," Ritsma said. "And yet we have to recognise that it's here. We have to be the ones to step up and say 'no that's that's not acceptable. That is not who we are as Stratford.'"

Mayor-Elect Martin Ritsma at the community meeting at the Stratford Pride Community Centre. Connor Luczka/StratfordToday

Bruce Duncan Skeaff founded the SPCC in early 2021 as a space for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, creating the space for discussions like the one held last night. It was made to be a space where people could feel safe, he said. 

Chief Skinner provided an update on the ongoing investigations of the three Stratford events. He stressed the importance of community support when facing crimes of this nature. Without video surveillance, police rely on citizens to help out, he said. 

Chief Skinner also noted a rise in ‘hate-motivated incidents’, which would surprise most in the city, he said. 

"Its not just Stratford," the chief said. "It doesn't paint a pretty picture of what the future may hold."

Perth OPP reported last month mischief to multiple flags at a residence located on Albert Avenue North in North Perth. Three pride flags, a Black Lives Matter flag, an every child matters flag and Abortion is a women's choice flag were all damaged. In the summer, OPP reported damage to Pride decorations and flags at schools, businesses, and light standards. 

Chief Skinner clarified that hate-motivated incidents are not the same as hate-motivated crimes. For example, someone flying a flag viewed as offensive at their home is not committing a crime, but it is noted as an incident. 

Chief Skinner cited the pandemic as a possible reason for the spike in hate-incidents. The pandemic has seen increases in other social issues such as homelessness, addiction, mental health, family conflict, and self harm - issues that can be catalysts for crime. 

Jane Brenneman, a guest at the meeting, said that even if the investigation concludes with an arrest, it doesn’t change the community’s feeling of safety, or lack thereof. 

“I think catching whoever did this is important,” Brenneman said. “Cameras are important. That doesn't make me feel safer walking down the street … there's an underlying hate in this community, and I don't care if you're queer, or of colour, or a woman. There's an underlying hate and somehow as a community we have to come together and let people know – that's not welcome.”

Pamela Coneybeare, chair of the Downtown Stratford Business Improvement Area, attended the meeting on behalf of the organization in order to find out how they can support the community. The downtown BIA spends money and time on the beautification of downtown and has a vested interest as stakeholders and as concerned neighbours, she said. 

Coneybeare noted that the downtown BIA carry graffiti-kits and resources for local businesses – including training. 

The offensive graffiti has since been removed at Sirkel Foods. Owners Ballantyne and Lang said that the owner of Ross’ Bike Works, Ross Taylor, had a spare cleaner and loaned it to them to remove the offensive materials. 

They said that when they came in on Tuesday morning, the sunlight projected the words written outside into the restaurant. It was a horrific sight and they knew they had to clean it off right away. 

Ballantyne and Lang said that the community concern has been heartwarming, though noted that recent events have left an impact. They go to Sirkel Foods in the early hours of the morning and often feel unsafe, she said. 

Ballantyne said they will install more cameras and lights, and there are hopes cameras are added to the Erie Street lot behind their restaurant.