The Crosses for Change memorial site at Paris and Brady streets in downtown Sudbury has now been vandalized twice in as many weeks, raising questions about why this has occurred.
After the second occurrence of vandalism, a 38-year-old woman was arrested. She has not been tied to the earlier incident.
Several volunteers gathered after both incidents to reset the crosses, though they are not in the same order, and many of the special gifts and flowers laid there are ruined.
Greater Sudbury Police told Sudbury.com officers responded to a call to the site on the morning of Sunday, July 16.
Information received was that there was an individual shouting at the crosses, said police.
When officers arrived on scene, they found many of the crosses had been pulled out of the ground. Officers then located an individual behind a line of trees near the property, who matched the clothing and physical descriptors provided.
Around 7:45 a.m., the individual was placed under arrest without incident. She has been charged with one count of Mischief - Interfere with Lawful Use and one count of Mischief to Religious and/or Educational Site.
The 38-year-old appeared in court on July 16 to answer to the charges and has since been remanded into custody.
None of the allegations have been tested in court and the accused is considered innocent unless proven guilty.
The first cross of the soon-to-be memorial went up in the fall of 2020, in front of the fire station on Paris Street near the Bridge of Nations.
Denise Sandul put up a memorial to her son, Miles Keaney, who died of an overdose in September of that year, and later put a post on social media, telling others they could also post a memorial cross if they wished.
Keaney’s cross was quickly joined by others, and soon there were so many, the site had to move to its current location at Paris and Brady.
Sudbury.com reached out to Sandul for comment on the recent vandalism, but she was unavailable as of this article’s publication.
The site now holds almost 270 white crosses, most of which were pulled from the ground in the recent incident.
And while the site is important to families, it stirs grief in a population already beset by sadness, and is a constant reminder of death, outreach workers have previously told Sudbury.com.
There are many families in Sudbury who feel the Crosses for Change are the only connection they have with their loved ones, people who died from opioid toxicity.
But sadly, in an attempt to increase awareness and offer some comfort to loved ones, there have also been unintended consequences to the site.
In the memorial’s early days, Sudbury.com learned there were people finding crosses for themselves. Believing they were dead, families erected crosses for those who were still alive. It caused relapses into active addiction at the time.
Kaela Pelland, director of peer engagement for Réseau ACCESS Network, told Sudbury.com this week her first thoughts when she learned of the most recent incident is the pain and trauma of the vulnerable people she works with: people who use drugs.
“My thoughts are that the compounded grief, trauma and frustration that folks who use drugs are experiencing may have led to this,” she said.
“Things have not improved and people continue to die at alarming rates, this may have created such anger and frustration that someone felt the need to vandalize the crosses. I can’t be sure of the motivation, but that is where my heart goes upon hearing the news.”
The City of Greater Sudbury is currently planning a local leadership summit, with a goal date of October, to address the opioid crisis.
A motion to create the summit was approved at a city council meeting on June 13, after a presentation by Ontario’s Chief Coroner, Dr. Dirk Huyer.
In his presentation, Huyer noted that since 2013, 483 people in the Great Sudbury Area have died from opioid toxicity.
The rate of opioid toxicity death has increased by almost 200 per cent since 2018, said Huyer. Ontario has only had a 60-per-cent increase.
Between 2018 and 2022, there was an increase in Sudbury from 26 deaths per year to 116 passing last year in 2022, which Huyer said represents a 346-per-cent increase. Demographics show that opioid deaths are highest amongst those aged 30 to 49, said Huyer.
Jenny Lamothe covers vulnerable and marginalized communities for Sudbury.com