SAULT STE. MARIE — Algoma University, its student union, and the African Caribbean Canadian Association of Northern Ontario (ACCANO) are all decrying the burning of Black Lives Matters signs early Monday on the front lawn of Algoma University.
The burning signs were witnessed by SooToday's Carol Martin, who was driving past at the time.
"It was a small fire. Probably half a dozen signs were burning in a pile," Martin said.
"Someone stripped the Black Lives Matters signs that had been standing by the sidewalk off their pickets, piled them together and lit them on fire."
"I suspect the vandals were nearby because one sign was still standing and the others were just starting to burn."
"I think we interrupted them. Didn't see anyone, though."
"I was driving a couple friends home from my house at about 1 a.m. We saw the fire and one of my friends called it in while I took pictures," Martin said.
Sault Ste. Marie Fire Services quickly extinguished the fire, which was considered inconsequential and recorded with minimal details.
Fire Services public education officer Aaron Gravelle said the signs were constructed of plastic and wooden stakes that would have burned or melted quickly, so it was unlikely firefighters would have known they were Black Lives Matter signs.
At time of writing, it was not immediately known whether Sault Ste. Marie Police Service is investigating the matter or whether police even received a complaint.
"African Caribbean Canadian Association of Northern Ontario strongly condemns the burning of BLM posters at Algoma University campus over the weekend," said Jane Omollo, ACCANO president.
“ACCANO, together with our community partners, continues to stand together against all forms of discrimination, racism and intolerance."
"We must stand for what is just and what is right, even if it means that we will find ourselves in uncomfortable and uneasy situations. We must acknowledge that racism exists. We must, therefore, re-evaluate the systemic practices in our communities that continue to propagate racism. We are committed to help our community heal and continue this conversation,” Omollo said.
The signs were placed on the lawn as part of an ongoing installation by Algoma University Students' Union (AUSU), which interestingly has an all-black executive this year.
"These people are directly affected," Janette Wallace, AUSU general manager and Black Lives Matter Sault Ste. Marie organizer, tells SooToday. "That's what's driving a lot of the demonstrations and protests that we've been organizing."
"We are pushing for a police report to be filed in case more things like this pop up the future," Wallace said.
The half-dozen signs that burned early Monday were intended to be just a beginning.
AUSU was hoping to ask members of the community to fill the university's front lawn with Black Lives Matter signs, but that plan has been put on hold while Algoma U reviews safety and security issues.
One large banner that was to be installed on the front lawn today was unfurled Friday night outside the studios of Sault Online, at an AUSU/Black Lives Matter/Defund the Police protest of recent coverage.
"Following a peaceful protest this past Friday, and possibly unrelated, a number of BLM signs on our campus were burned this past weekend," Yahaya Alphonse, AUSU president, said in a written statement.
"This is another example of how some are trying to silence our voice and the and the actions we as young people want to take to our community."
"It demonstrates that there is much more work that needs to be done locally and beyond."
“AUSU continues to aspire toward peaceful ways to raise awareness around our concerns of racism and bias within the city and to encourage and welcome continuous dialogue. Our efforts are focused on helping our community understand the ongoing issues of bias and racism minorities/people of colour face.," Alphonse said.
"We thank the many people in the community who have been and continue to be supportive of our efforts."
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