Ottawa police have classified an act of vandalism at the Algonquin Queer Student Alliance (QSA) office as a hate crime, but campus security says the incident is an act of mischief.
Kaiden Brant, an Algonquin student who does volunteer administrative work for the QSA, says he walked into the QSA office on Dec 10 and found a mess.
“Stuff was all over the place,” Brant says. “I started opening the other cupboards and noticed that everything was just thrown everywhere, like pamphlets. On the table I noticed that the [Pride] flag was ripped, as well as a poster.”
He contacted his friends and the person in charge of student club rooms, who then called campus security.
“They did a police report for us . . . and they said they’d just let us know if they heard anything,” Brant says.
“When [campus security] did call us, we did flag [it] as a hate crime,” Inspector Joan McKenna says. “But there was no other investigative evidence to support any further investigation.”
Brant says that when campus security guards initially came to the office to investigate the damage, they also referred to the incident as a hate crime, but that’s not what campus security is saying now. Xtra spoke to Algonquin’s media relations representative and attempted to get a phone interview with someone from campus security on Jan 14 and Jan 15. These attempts were unsuccessful, but Colin Bonang, the associate director of campus safety, security and emergency management, emailed a statement on Jan 14.
“This case is still open,” Bonang’s email reads. “Without more information, at this stage, we cannot speculate as to the motivation and it is currently being treated as a minor property mischief incident and a crime of opportunity. Given that the College occasionally suffers similar such property related incidents, it is premature to suggest what the motives may have been or that the area was specifically targeted. Algonquin College Safety and Security Services is working with Ottawa Police and the QSA to investigate this matter fully.”
Anyone who gained entry to the QSA office would see doors leading to other student club rooms, but none of the other student clubs’ belongings were vandalized, says Sabrina Sousa, QSA’s co-president.
“They’re trying not to worry people too much, but they’re also hushing it up a little bit,” she says of the college’s response to the vandalism. “Just call it what it is. If we’re the only group being targeted . . . then it is a hate crime.”
According to police, the QSA door was not secured properly at the time of the vandalism. Sousa and Brant say the door wouldn’t close properly, which allowed the vandal or vandals to gain entry.
“It’s fixed now, because the school fixed it, but it used to be that if you pushed [the door] hard enough you could get into [the QSA office],” Sousa says.
To gain entry to the other student club rooms would have required breaking in their doors, so given QSA’s then-faulty door, Sousa says she understands why campus security calls the vandalism a “crime of opportunity,” but she adds that the nature of the vandalism is still homophobic.
“It could be a crime of opportunity, but with the ripping of the flag, it just kind of shows a little bit of intolerance to LGBTQ people,” Sousa says. “If they just . . . tossed our papers around and whatever and flung stuff around, that was fine, but they deliberately went after our flag and ripped it. That’s what kind of [turned] this into a hate crime because you don’t just do that.”
McKenna says that the vandalism is unfortunate but there’s nothing police can do at this time.
“If we have nothing to investigate — meaning if there’s no suspects, we have nothing, nobody saw anything — there’s nothing for us to further investigate,” she says.
There are security cameras in the hallway, but Sousa and Brant say they’d like to see a camera installed inside the club room. Despite being unsettled by the vandalism, they say they don’t feel unsafe on campus.
“Algonquin’s a safe school,” Sousa says. “I don’t feel like I’m going to be jumped or anything like that . . . I just didn’t think this was going to happen.”
The incident is a reminder that homophobia exists even in schools and communities that otherwise feel safe, she says.
“I hope people realize that hate crimes still happen and that no matter where you are in the city and what school you’re a part of, stuff like this can happen,” she says. “It builds awareness, which is a good thing because now people realize we’re here and we’re not giving up.”