Xtra has been the target of a recent spate of homophobic incidents that have seen the magazine’s publication boxes vandalized and papers dumped throughout the city.
Since September about 25 of Xtra’s pickup boxes have been vandalized across the downtown core. The handles have been removed and the doors to some of the boxes have been glued shut, preventing access to the paper.
“There is no indication that this was happening to any other publication’s boxes,” says Adrienne DeFrancesco, Xtra’s circulationand community relations manager.
A number of Xtra boxes have been hit more than once. The one outside Buddies In Bad Times Theatre on Alexander St has had its handle stolen four times.
DeFrancesco says she suspects the culprit or culprits may be using the subway to get around. “It’s happened along routes on the subway line. We noticed that it’s pretty organized.”
Ironically, the boxes on Church St have been spared. DeFrancesco says alert village residents would be more likely to question someone trying to damage the boxes.
DeFrancesco hasn’t put a dollar figure on the damage yet; distributors are in the process of modifying the boxes to make it more difficult to remove the handles. She’s also in the middle of filing reports with the police.
“Each incident requires an individual report. So it’s a very long process. There has to be a report in each division that an incident took place. There’s no way to do a bulk report for all these incidents,” says DeFrancesco.
In what seems to be the work of another vandal or vandals, boxes in the Parkdale area along Queen West have been hit by someone who writes offensive slurs on the papers themselves, then sticks the defaced paper in the display window.
“Generally what happens is the person folds an ad from the middle of the paper, meaning they’ll go into the paper and look for it, rather than drawing on the cover or sticking something on the outside of the box,” says DeFrancesco. “They’ll doodle or do collage work… a very sexualized or homophobic type of drawing. Sometimes pieces from our paper or from other publications that look to be queer publications are pasted on to make a collage.”
In yet another incident this fall, all issues of Xtra in Runnymede Library were being removed by a woman who, in e-mails to Xtra, claimed the paper is offensive to parents and children. The woman also complained to the library itself to have the paper banned, but officials say the paper meets their guidelines.
“Xtra does not go against [our] guidelines, so we will continue to carry it for our customers,” says Vickery Bowles, director of collections management with the Toronto Public Library. “We carry material representing varying points of view and which are of current interest, including material which reflects current trends and controversies. So we are committed to keeping Xtra in our branches because it is popular with a large number of library customers.”
Library officials say the paper has been relocated from Runnymede’s foyer to the periodicals area so staff can monitor it more closely.
In May a 48-year-old Ottawa man, Thomas M Strain, was sentenced to three months of house arrest after pleading guilty to painting and vandalizing the boxes of Capital Xtra, Xtra’s Ottawa sibling. For more than a year, Strain painted “HIV” and swastikas on the boxes, and glued the doors shut.