Police are investigating, and the community outraged, after a Haliburton business owner had his Pride flags stolen.
Prettypaws Pet Boutique and Spa owner Christopher O’Mara is offering a $1,000 reward for information that leads to the charging of individuals seen on camera outside the business Sept. 6.
O’Mara posted videos Sept. 7 showing two people taking Pride flags but leaving the Canadian flags also hanging up. O’Mara said it is not the first time he has experienced discrimination during his past seven years in Haliburton for being openly gay, from nasty letters to having a slur spray-painted on his windows.
“It was important to me to call this out publicly because I truly believe if you just ignore this sort of behaviour, it will continue,” he said. “Whether it was hate motivated or not, it was vandalism and it isn’t welcome in our town.”
The post went viral, attracting 193 comments and 321 shares, with most expressing support for O’Mara and outrage at the perpetrators. The videos have more than 23,000 views combined.
O’Mara said he hopes this sends a message about how this behaviour is unacceptable.
“Haliburton is a safe and welcoming community and no one should be concerned about being harassed. I think it has shown that our community is supportive and full of allies. I hope it can reduce or eliminate further instances of homophobic behaviour.”
He added despite those bad experiences, Haliburton is still a fabulous community to live in as an LGBT+ person.
“Haliburton is vibrant with art and culture – pre-pandemic, anyhow – and is full of allies,” O’Mara said. “We mustn’t let a bad apple spoil the lot.”
Central Region OPP posted a video about the incident on its social media channels and asked for any information people have.
Haliburton Highlands OPP Const. Amanda Gilbert said they are investigating the theft.
“Any information in relation to the identification of the individuals seen in the (O’Mara) video would be appreciated,” Gilbert said. “With respect to whether or not this was a hate crime, we cannot say as it is still under investigation.”
O’Mara’s video appears to show two women stealing the flags at night with faces covered, ripping them from the poles.
Anyone with information is asked to contact OPP at 1-888-310-1122 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477. In his post, O’Mara said he is sick of being bullied in his home.
“When hateful acts happen, I believe the message that they won’t be tolerated can be quickly proliferated,” O’Mara said. “I want to express my gratitude to Haliburton, once again, for their love and support.”