Arrest made, charges laid after graffiti incidents

ANTIGONISH: The RCMP arrested and charged a 17-year-old after graffiti was painted on a school bus, a school sign, and on a school building.

In a press release, the RCMP characterized the graffiti as “racially and culturally insensitive and included profanity and derogatory comments about both Indigenous people and the African Nova Scotian Community.”

Police say the 17-year-old male was arrested after they investigated the incident at the school and other graffiti investigations in the Town of Antigonish. The teen faces charges of public incitement of hatred and four counts of mischief. He is out on conditions and is set to appear in Antigonish Youth Court at a later date.

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RCMP media relations officer Cpl. Dal Hutchinson said the name of a group, “Button Bandits,” was painted on the school, as well as an apartment building and a residence in Antigonish. Police continue to investigate the incidents and anyone with information is asked to contact the RCMP or Crime Stoppers.

The graffiti incident at the school took place at some point between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. on March 5. On March 7, the Strait regional school board (SRSB) followed the advice of Antigonish District RCMP and closed the school after verbal threats were reported.

On March 7, following the final meeting of the SRSB, superintendent Ford Rice called the incidents disheartening.

“Later in the day we became aware of a post on social media regarding a potential threat,” said Rice. “That was immediately forwarded to the RCMP. During that time, throughout the evening and the night, the RCMP continued to investigate that issue, and upon consultation with RCMP, we decided that we would close the school [on March 7].”

“However, today the RCMP continued their investigation, and we’re happy to report that at present the alert is being sent to parents and guardians right now that at this time, the RCMP does not believe that there is a viable threat, and that school will be open tomorrow,” Rice noted on March 7. “We’re very happy that that is the case so that our students and staff can get back to a normal routine as much as possible.”

Rice said the board set up age appropriate assemblies and will invite partners from the Paq’tnkek First Nation and the African Nova Scotian communities to listen to concerns and talk to the students.

Rice said this is the first time an incident of this magnitude took place while he was superintendent.

“We take any actions like this very seriously,” said Rice. “There’s always concern. We want each and every student to attend school in a safe, welcoming learning environment. We will we work with our partners… to make sure that working together, we can move forward so that incidents like this become a thing of the past.”

Around 100 Paq’tnkek First Nation students returned home early from school on March 6, following the discovery of the graffiti. Paq’tnkek Mi’kmaw First Nation Chief P.J. Prosper said the community was shocked by the incidents.

“There was an added concern for safety, and from what I understand, some youth have looked at this as sort of support to reaffirm who they are and feel proud of who they are as being Mi’kmaw,” he said. “At this stage, we are working with some of our partners from StFX to discuss the matter in light of upcoming meetings with the school board to talk about having adequate programs and services available within the school to provide things that will help address these types of issues, and allowing people to be more sensitive to the cultural differences that exist within the school and certain perceptions people have.”