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Mayor condemns hate-motivated vandalism in Summerland

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Summerland’s mayor is condemning a hate-motivated act of vandalism targeting an Indo-Canadian family that has been living in the small South Okanagan community for decades.

Toni Boot says she was disappointed and disheartened to witness the aftermath of the vandalism at the home on Hespler Road.

“Sickened, really, that a family that had been here for so long and had never experienced this had such a violation of their personal property and a violation of the safety that they feel in Summerland,” she told Global News on Wednesday.

Toni Boot, who is the first Black mayor in Summerland’s history, says small towns are not immune to racism. Shelby Thom/Global News

RCMP are investigating after vandals used red spray paint to tag Ramesh and Kiran Lekhi’s home with a Swastika and other disturbing images and phrases on Monday around 10:30 p.m.

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Read more: Police investigating ‘hate-motivated vandalism’ involving Okanagan home

Rocks were also tossed through two windows.

Police believe the incident is linked to similar hateful graffiti that was discovered on the town’s Memorial Park bandshell on Tuesday morning.

Summerland RCMP Sgt. David Preston says both incidents are being investigated as hate crimes.

“The swastika symbols that were on the residence is a huge concern,” said Preston, “and that is why I did reach out to our B.C. Hate Crimes unit and also our general investigations section that are extremely supportive of our officers here in Summerland.”

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The three Lekhi siblings travelled from Vancouver to Summerland to support their parents after learning of the disturbing incident.

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“It’s definitely heartbreaking, seeing something like this happen to your own home, your safe space, it’s not something you would ever imagine,” said son Abhishek Lekhi.

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“My mom is so shaken up, she just can’t even believe it, she is still shaking right now.”

Boot, who is the municipality’s first Black mayor, said she has personally experienced “blatant racism” while running for public office.

“We look to our neighbours to the south and we say ‘Yeah, that’s happening there, it doesn’t happen here.’ Well, it’s happened here for hundreds of years against the Indigenous people,” Boot said.

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She hopes the Lekhis sharing their story will create awareness and community discussion about racism in the hopes of creating a more inclusive and tolerant society to all people of colour.

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Mayor and council will discuss anti-racism initiatives at a previously scheduled special council meeting on Monday.

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Meanwhile, the Lekhi family is thanking the community for its outpouring of support and what’s been described as an “extraordinary response,” with offers of monetary donations and help with painting and cleaning.

“We’ve had people stopping by apologizing, people came up the street crying and they said this isn’t what Summerland is about,” said a family member who did not want to be identified.

Should anyone have information, they’re encouraged to call the Summerland RCMP at 250-494-7416 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

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