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NOTL considers cameras to prevent Pride crosswalk vandalism

The rainbow crosswalk installed in Niagara-on-the-Lake for Pride Month has become a target of vandalism, twice in less than a week

After hearing the town’s newly-installed Pride crosswalk had been defaced twice in less than a week, CAO Marnie Cluckie says staff were still looking at how best to clean it Monday morning, and also discussing putting up cameras to prevent further vandalism.

Without final details in place, Cluckie says, cameras were looking like a possible solution.

“It will likely be the first step that staff will take,” she says, and won’t require a special council meeting. The cost, she says, “will fall under my operational budget.”

She wasn’t sure of a timeline but says “we’ll expedite it as much as possible.”

Town staff were also consulting with the company that painted the vivid colours of the crosswalk last week, she says, to ensure they would be using “best practices to clean it, and now of course they have the first and second incidents to clean it up.”

Although after the first set of circular tire marks high pressure water was recommended, the second defacement, which staff had identified as made by tires coated with a substance, likely tar, made cleaning it “more of a challenge,” Cluckie says. They were waiting to hear back whether some kind of solvent would be needed to clean the tar off, without damaging the surface, and whether a sealant could be applied to protect it.

Cluckie also contacted the police again Monday morning to let them know their investigation now included two acts of vandalism, likely made by “a small vehicle, like a motorcycle, dirt bike or ATV.”

The Progressive Pride design of the crosswalk is the same as the one by the Niagara Region buildings on St. Davids Road.

"The light blue, pink and white represent trans and non-binary individuals, and the black and brown represent marginalized people of colour. The painting of this crosswalk serves as a visible reminder that all are welcome in Niagara-on-the-Lake,” says the town news release, and is intended be a visible way of celebrating, supporting and creating awareness of the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Made aware of some comments on Facebook regarding people taking their lawn chairs out to sit and watch over the crosswalk to discourage further vandalism, Cluckie says, “I don’t recommend people taking police matters into their own hands at all. But what I appreciate about that is it speaks to the overwhelming support we have in NOTL for inclusivity, respect and acceptance. That people are willing to do that warms my heart. They are saying ‘we want to stand in unity against discrimination.’”

If there is any silver lining “to this horrible defacing of the crosswalk, it’s that it brings those community members together who really care about acceptance.”

And yes, she adds, “I 100 per cent believe the people in NOTL care about creating an inclusive community. I think most people will also be quite devastated by this action that was taken to deface it. It’s vital that we stand as a community against this kind of discrimination and intolerance, and that everyone helps to create an environment where everyone feels respected and accepted, and I think we’re seeing that.”

It was Lisa Simpson, who grew up in Niagara-on-the-Lake but has lived and worked in Toronto for the last 11 years ,who saw on Facebook that the crosswalk was vandalized for a second time, and offered “to park a camping chair at the crosswalk for a 12-hour shift to protect it. Anyone else?”

Talking to The Local, a sister publication of ThoroldToday, she says she absolutely meant it, and on Facebook, called on Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa to organize it.

Seeing some of the negative comments posted, she says, made her think about when she came out in NOTL and announced she was getting married, she was afraid there might be a backlash, especially against her family’s business.

Instead, she says, “exactly the opposite happened. I was showered with support.”

To see the negativity on Facebook so many years later ‘is really disappointing.”

She says she thinks it’s “creeping up from the States, and now it’s happening here,” that people possibly felt this way all along, but are deciding now not to stay quiet any longer.

Although she loves to see a Pride crosswalk, especially important as a “show of support for young people to see what, for them, is a sign of acceptance,” she’s not crazy about where it is, referring to the town’s decision on location as “performative allyship.” If they really wanted to make a statement about about being visibly welcoming, Queen Street would have been the better choice, she says.

Coun. Erwin Wiens says he is very disappointed and saddened by what he’s heard from those who are opposed to the crosswalk.

He has received the same emails and heard the same comments that have been published at letters to local newspapers, from people who believe the town is not serving the majority of residents with its installation — that there should have been a survey or vote on how many people want a rainbow crosswalk in town.

“I don’t believe in surveys. I was elected to lead. Council was elected to lead. That’s a survey. In four years time there will be another survey and a chance to get rid of me if you don’t agree with me,” says Wiens.

He listens to what residents have to say, he adds, “but we have to do what’s best for residents in general, and listen to staff reports and recommendations. Staff are well-informed.”

He received one particular phone call at home Saturday night, and says the person calling was extremely rude and swearing about all the reasons why the rainbow crosswalk shouldn’t be necessary.

Wiens says when council first voted on the inclusivity committee’s recommendation, he voted in favour of it, but added, “I was really agnostic about it. I wasn’t sure it was necessary, but if others thought it was then I had no problem with that.”

But as he heard the recent comments from those so strongly opposed to it, he says he came to realize “that this is showing us exactly why it is necessary. I’ve become an ally — I understand now that there is hate out there, and we need to show as a town that’s not acceptable.”

He can’t understand how it harms people who oppose it, he adds.

“It means a lot to some people and it doesn’t have a negative impact on anybody.”

If it’s an issue of how their tax money is spent, he takes out his phone and calculates that at a cost of $20,000, as cited by Cluckie, even without grants or donations, it would be slightly more than $1 on a tax bill.

“There are lots of extras we do for people, such as flowers, parks and recreation. These are things we do to spruce things up all the time. They’re in the budget, because we decided we can afford it.”

And don’t, he adds, blame the opposition on Christianity — he points to Cornerstone Community Church as a church that is committed to inclusivity. That, he says, “is what Christianity is all about.”

To those opposed to the Pride crosswalk who say there should have been a vote or a survey done to see whether the majority of residents support it, Cluckie explains the recommendation for its installation came from the town’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee meeting in 2021. It’s a committee of council, made up of people from the community, and their recommendation was accepted by council to move forward, which was when the town began looking for a grant to help fund it, she says.

The same recommendation included five rainbow benches, one in each community, and a survey was put to residents in June, 2022, to help determine the placement of the crosswalks and benches, says Cluckie.

There was also a place for comments, and although “there were a couple from people indicating they didn’t want it, the vast majority of the comments we received were overwhelmingly in favour.”

The rainbow crosswalk and benches as symbols of inclusivity are quite common in Canada and North America, Cluckie adds, “so this is not a novel idea. It is a good way to demonstrate that the community embraces inclusivity.”