By Melissa Villeneuve and Trevor Busch
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Just over a week after Taber’s first Pride flag was stolen from its flag pole, the second one has been burned to the ground.
The Taber Equality Alliance issued a statement on Sunday that the flag had been burned on the flag pole in Confederation Park, behind the Town’s Administration Building.
“Fortunately, the fire did not spread to the surrounding trees, or the gazebo,” the statement reads. “We are still here. Our hearts are strong. This is not a deterrent, but a call to love.”
The TEA held its third flag raising last Monday, with the public invited to attend to stand in solidarity with the TEA. The flagpole in question is located on town property, and the raising of the Pride flag for the duration of the month of June was originally approved by council in a split vote. On Monday afternoon, Taber Mayor Andrew Prokop condemned the actions of the perpetrators involved.
“We, as a community, are not condoning those types of activities — illegal activities — related to the damaging or the theft of the Pride flag. It’s being looked into accordingly and handled by the Taber Police Service. We have a security camera system set up out there. I have no idea what they’ve got on camera, but I’m sure they’re reviewing that accordingly, and it’s in the very capable hands of our local Taber Police Service.”
Commenting on the Taber Police Service Facebook page on Monday, Chief Graham Abela related some of the details of the incident.
“An investigation commenced and it was determined that a small portion of the flag was located burned at the base of the pole. Although the Pride flag was still flying, it was also damaged. A forensic examination took place and it has been determined that an accelerant was applied to the pole and then lit on fire. Once lit, the pole acted as a wick and caught the flag on fire, (and) a portion of the flag melted and fell to the ground.”
Taber Police have spoken with the Taber Equality Alliance and have offered victims services and supports. Police are continuing to investigate the crime as an arson and mischief.
“This act of arson is a public safety concern, and is not taken lightly by the Taber Police,” said Abela. “This type of activity in not in keeping with the values of the community and we denounce this crime. We know exactly what occurred. Community members committed this arson and it will take the community to solve it. Anyone with information regarding this arson is asked to contact the Taber Police.”
The Town of Taber issued a statement on Monday which attacked the nature of the crime, while urging that the entire community not be painted with the same brush.
“The Town of Taber is very disappointed by the actions of those who vandalized the Pride Flag this past weekend in Confederation Park. We are currently working with the Taber Police Service on their active investigation. The actions of a few people does not represent the community of Taber as a whole, and the Town of Taber condemns the actions of the individual or individuals who have committed this crime. The Town stands for equality, inclusion, and respect for all citizens, no matter their backgrounds or beliefs. As with the past case of theft and with this most recent situation, attempts to vandalize, remove, or destroy the Pride Flag shall be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law.”
Taber held its first Pride celebration on June 12, which included the flag raising. The first flag was stolen on June 19 and Taber police are investigating the theft. The Taber Pride event drew approximately 250 people gathered to advocate for and celebrate strides towards equality and inclusion for its LGBTQ+ citizens. The original flag was supposed to be flown until the end of June. The TEA also participated in Lethbridge’s Pride parade on Saturday.
“What has been done to our flags spotlights the persistent and consistent oppression of LGBTQ people,” the statement reads. “If you have not experienced mistreatment because of who you love, or how you identify, then please consider yourself fortunate. Do not look away from what has happened in Taber. Twice. In 2017.”
“We will continue to show up, live openly, and love with whole hearts. We have tremendous love and courage, and we are still convinced that love will triumph.”
Mayor Prokop, a former officer with the town’s service, suggested the nature of the crime might make it tempting for a perpetrator to brag about their actions to friends or acquaintances.
“That’s possible. It’s happened in the past with any crime in town, or elsewhere. Because we’ve got a smaller community here, our Taber Police Service often know a lot of people on a first-name basis, which is an advantage as far as being able to solve any potential crimes out there. But you’re right, that could happen at a party, gathering, function, where stuff like that comes out. I’m sure the Taber Police Service is doing all it can, and we’ll hear about some positive end result I would think at some time in the future.”