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'This is happening more and more': B.C. high school's sign defaced with racist slur

Summerland Secondary School is seen in a screenshot from Google Maps. Summerland Secondary School is seen in a screenshot from Google Maps.

The former mayor of a town in B.C.’s Okanagan wasn’t surprised when she walked past the local high school and found the letters on its welcome sign had been switched overnight to display a racist slur.

The message was changed to read, “Welcome back (N-words).”

“It wasn't shocking,” Toni Boot told CTV News. “Having grown up here, I know exactly what racism is and how it feels.”

Boot was Summerland’s mayor from 2018 to 2022, and was the first Black person to hold that position in the city. She also attended Summerland Secondary School, where the act took place.

Boot said she reported the sign to the police, and told a school board member of the incident, who in turn told a teacher, who took down the letters that day.

She said instances of hateful acts and vandalism are happening “more and more frequently” in Summerland—five since May of this year, whether they be anti-Black, ant-Indigenous or anti-Pride.

Boot pointed to an incident in August, when an anti-Black slur was spray-painted on one of the town’s rainbow crosswalks.

“Everybody has the right to feel safe where they are. And people have left this community because of the racism,” she said. Boot added that she’s heard from a mother who doesn’t want her daughter—who is mixed raced—to go outside alone.

The problem stretches back years, and the final two of Boot’s term as mayor were particularly difficult, she said.

“It was surprising how much racism there actually is in this beautiful little town.”

Toni Boot was the mayor of Summerland from 2018 to 2022, and served on city council for the four previous years. (Image credit: Toni Boot/Facebook)In the winter of 2021, someone etched “F-you N-word” along with a “gigantic swastika” in the snow on the parking lot of a municipal building, Boot recalled.

In 2020, an Indian family’s house was spray-painted with racist graffiti, including a swastika, and they had rocks thrown through their window.  Around 200 people from across B.C. organized a car parade to support the family in response.

That same night, Boot said more racist graffiti was found in a park downtown.

And that same summer, the then-mayor cut and ripped up confederate flag bandanas that were being sold at a local dollar store.

“I think it's really important that people know what is going on in our little town in our province, and more people that know maybe people start to listen at some point, take some action,” she said.

On that front, Boot said she’s choosing to see the most recent incident as an opportunity for her community.

She said it starts with getting the message out that these hateful acts are happening, and need to be addressed. 

“This is a conversation about hate in our community.”

Boot said she’s in talks with local organizations to set up a formal community conversation event to address racism in Summerland.

“Some people have the blinders on and they won’t do anything but there may be others that genuinely want to know more, want to understand how they can do better and be allies to these people in our community,” she said.

That work may already be in progress. On Sunday afternoon, staff at Summerland Middle School put up a sign reading “Everyone is Welcome Here,” in response to the sign at the high school.

A teacher told Castanet that staff are planning to hold a conversation with students about the incident.

Staff at Summerland Middle School put up a sign in response to the incident. (Image credit: Monique Porter/Castanet)

“Even though I am no longer an elected official in Summerland, I still care about this community and I still live in this community. And I still feel very strongly that people that look like me, or people that are, for whatever reason, hate might be directed at them, have every right to feel safe,” Boot said. Top Stories

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