As election day nears in Ottawa, some Barrhaven candidates have discovered their campaign signs are disappearing.
Saturday, Oct 18 was an advance polling day in Ottawa, and incumbent school board trustee Donna Blackburn, who is hoping to hold her Zone 3 seat, says she did what any good candidate does and went out to put up campaign signs around Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Catholic School, where advance voting was taking place. Then she went to a hockey game.
On her way home from the game, Blackburn, who is the Ottawa Catholic School Board’s first openly lesbian trustee, went to retrieve the signs, but they were gone. “Mine were all gone except one directly in front of the school where there’s lots of light,” she says. “The mayor’s was still there, [Councillor Jan Harder’s] was still there — everybody else’s was still there except mine.”
The following day, Blackburn says, she received an email from a friend who had put one of her signs on his lawn; that sign had also disappeared. On Monday, she says, she went to drop off some campaign flyers at the home of another friend and noticed that a lawn sign had disappeared from her property as well. She says she knew then that her campaign was being targeted.
On Tuesday, Blackburn says, she received an email from the custodian at St Luke Catholic School in Barrhaven, telling her that he had discovered her signs in his dumpster and inviting her to come and retrieve them. She found the dumpster filled with her distinctive yellow and black signs, mixed in with pizza boxes and other refuse.
“The thing you have to understand . . . is that those signs — yes, they have my name on them, but they were paid for by parents who really, really care about public education,” Blackburn tells Xtra. “I didn’t pay for those signs.” Signs are a significant campaign expense for candidates; Blackburn says that hers cost about $20 apiece and that approximately $500 worth, or 25 signs, were removed.
Blackburn isn’t alone in being targeted. Councillor Jan Harder, who represents the Barrhaven ward, says a number of her signs were also removed on Friday, Oct 17 and thrown into nearby woods, fields and backyards. “It’s not acceptable,” she says, adding that when she learned Blackburn had been similarly affected she urged her to contact the police.
“I think that people don’t understand that it is against the law, and they should be careful not to tamper with [signs] because there are ramifications if they do.” The Ottawa Police Service confirms that anyone caught tampering with election signs can be charged with mischief.
“The whole purpose of elections is the democratic right,” Harder says. “It makes one very suspicious as to who it is that’s doing it.” Harder says that she spoke to a community police officer after her signs were taken down and that she doubts the same person is targeting both her and Blackburn. “But definitely it’s targeted.” She calls the removal of the signs from private property “grossly unfair.”
Blackburn says that she will contact police if any more of her signs are removed. While she isn’t certain that the removal of the signs is connected to her sexuality, she says she wouldn’t rule it out. She says she has her suspicions as to who might be behind the signs’ removal but is unwilling to name any names on the record. “I’m not going to publicly accuse somebody. That’s not appropriate.”
Harder, meanwhile, doesn’t think that whoever targeted Blackburn’s signs was acting out of homophobia. “As long as I’ve known Donna, she has been proud to speak very openly about her being gay. She has never hidden that fact, and certainly I have every reason to believe that she’ll be successful in this election. It certainly didn’t hurt her in the last election.”
Ultimately, Blackburn says, the removal of her signs has just made those who support her leadership more vigilant. “Whoever’s done this has just upset my supporters.”