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Vandals set Capital Xtra boxes on fire

Downtown haters target queer boxes over long weekend

FLAMING HOMO. This box at the corner of Laurier and Bank was one of two targeted over the weekend. The photo shows the box after it was cleaned up; it's now in full working order. Credit: (Capital Xtra file)

Two of Capital Xtra’s distinctive purple newspaper boxes were set ablaze over the weekend on Laurier Ave. The acts appear deliberate, says the paper’s distributor.

The box was last checked on Fri, May 18. When distribution staff returned on Wed, May 23 — after the Victoria Day long weekend — they found singed newspaper crumpled up inside the Plexiglas window. Both boxes were black with smoke damage, but they are now back in working order, says Marc Lafleur of Diffusion M & M, the company that distributes Capital Xtra.

Between 60 and 80 newspapers were destroyed in total but because they were tightly stacked, they did not fully ignite. The incident has been reported to the Ottawa Police’s Hate Crimes Unit.

A number of downtown Capital Xtra boxes have been targeted throughout the winter, with vandals tossing whole stacks of the paper away or placing the window copy out of view. Boxes are also regularly defaced with homophobic slurs; one found in Hull in February was defaced with the words “No AIDS infected fags in Hull.” The words “gay” and “lesbian” were blotted out from its sides and front. In Westboro, someone has been ripping down posters from utility poles and filling the gay newspaper’s boxes with them, according to the paper’s office coordinator.

“It’s illegal, it’s mischief. If you see anything, we need to hear about it,” says Kevin Falkingham.

In 2005, Capital Xtra found its boxes damaged and sprayed with hate slogans. The vandal, Thomas M Strain turned out to be an anguished, confused man whose deeply religious parents had done a number on him.

Capital Xtra has over 400 drop spots in the National Capital Region, with additional spots in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec. Of those, about 120 are purple outdoor boxes.

In response to the trend, Falkingham is beginning “a very informal” program, asking readers to take one or two boxes under their wing to check up on from time to time.

“Ideally, we’d love to have every box with an adopted parent,” says Falkingham.

There are already a few people in suburban areas looking after their neighbourhood box, he says. He’s looking to expand the program into the rest of the city.

It’s not the only threat to Capital Xtra’s distribution. In February, city council received a complaint from a parent upset with the newspaper’s availability at the Hunt Club-Riverside community centre. It took two months before city council stopped entertaining the idea of a Capital Xtra ban.