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Toronto police probe anti-gay vandalism in west end

Possible links to other homophobic graffiti explored by police

Vandals spray painted “be happy, not gay” on the back of Trove clothing store in Toronto’s west end Nov 29. The graffiti is similar to that left on the sidewalk in front of a home in the same neighbourhood two years ago. Credit: HG Watson

Toronto police are investigating a case of homophobia-driven vandalism on Bloor Street West that may be connected to a series of incidents that have taken place in Toronto’s west end over the last several years.

On Dec 3, InsideToronto reported that Trove, a clothing store in Bloor West Village, had been vandalized repeatedly. Over the summer, vandals had twice used rubber cement and cardboard to cover a Pride sticker displayed in the store’s front window. Carolyn Eby, the co-owner of the Trove chain of stores, tells Xtra that the vandals did it so meticulously, the cardboard covered the sticker perfectly. “Our reaction to that was to make a larger sign,” she says.

On Nov 29, Eby says, staff arrived at the store to find that someone had sprayed white paint on the store’s back alley wall that said, “be happy, not gay.” Later in the weekend, the Pride sign in the store’s front window was spray painted — but only the part of the sign that had a rainbow flag on it.

“We are extremely upset and angered by this,” Eby says, adding that she wants to make sure her staff and clients know that Trove is a safe and inclusive place to work.

Detective Constable Jordan Stowell tells Xtra that police searched the area near Trove for surveillance footage that might assist them in the investigation. InsideToronto reports that Toronto police are looking at Trove’s own surveillance footage. “From that, we are looking at some other occurrences in the area of some other graffiti to see if there is any link or any additional information that we can correlate to the incident that happened on the weekend,” Stowell says.

In 2013, Xtra reported that Sarah Harrison and Pascal Murphy, who displayed two large Pride flags outside their west-end home not far from Trove’s Bloor Street West location, had their flags taken from their front porch; a “Celebrate Diversity” bumper sticker ripped off their car; dog feces left on their car and front yard; their car tires slashed; and graffiti spray painted in white on the sidewalk outside their house that said, “be happy, not gay.” The incidents were ongoing over two years.

No arrests were made in that case, and the investigation is still open. Stowell confirms that this is one of the incidents that police are looking at possibly being connected to the vandalism at Trove.

The community eventually rallied around Harrison and Murphy, holding a solidarity barbecue party at neighbouring Runnymede Collegiate Institute.

Stowell says that the community can show solidarity in the face of this new report of homophobia. “This kind of incident is uncalled for,” he says. “What would be great is to see every business put a flag in their window in revolt against the type of crime this person is committing to say that everybody is standing together.”

Sarah Doucette, city councillor for Ward 13 Parkdale-High Park, called the incidents appalling and said she will be passing on Stowell’s comments to Paula McInerney, the chair of the Bloor West Village BIA.

As for Eby, the incidents have only hardened her resolve to ensure that people know Trove is an inclusive and welcoming business. “This is somebody trying to silence us, clearly — which isn’t going to happen.”