A homeowner in London, Ont., says he wants police to take a criminal approach to punishing those responsible after a Pride flag was stolen from his front porch and later found burnt nearby.
On Saturday, just after 9 p.m., surveillance footage recorded by Stephen Karchut captured four people approaching his home in southeast London.
Karchut described the people as youths, saying he recognized them as belonging to his neighbourhood.
One of the youths can be seen taking Karchut’s flag before the entire group runs away.
Karchut said it was upsetting to wake up the following day and see the footage.
“To see individuals that I can recognize from my neighbourhood take down this flag that means so much to the community I happen to be a part of, it’s just sickening because of their age — they’re so young and impressionable,” Karchut said.
Karchut eventually found what remained of the flag on Tuesday afternoon while walking his dog on a park pathway near his home.
“Not even three steps up the path and there’s the remnant of the flag that was proudly hanging in my front yard, burnt and melted into the asphalt,” Karchut said.
He added that after the initial theft gained news coverage, a family in his neighbourhood had informed him that footage of the flag being burned had been posted to Snapchat before being taken down a short time later.
“Knowing the flag is gone and that it was burned is one thing,” Karchut said. “The fact that they couldn’t even have the decency to clean up their criminal act, they decided to just leave it for everyone to see, that’s something else.”
A spokesperson for London police told Global News that a theft investigation is active and ongoing.
If charges are laid, then it would be up to the courts to decide whether a hate, bias or racially motivated crime was committed during potential sentencing, according to the spokesperson.
Karchut had originally asked police to take an educational approach with those responsible, however that changed following Tuesday’s discovery.
“No, I don’t think an educational approach is necessary here, I think a criminal one is necessary, considering the severity of what happened and the fact that nobody did anything to clean it up,” Karchut said.
Karchut has received an outpouring of community support in the aftermath, including a new Pride flag that was dropped off by his real estate broker.
He said the incident highlights why Pride is still needed today, adding that he and his partner knew that hanging up a Pride flag would make them a target.
“Homophobia is still very real, just like people going against other religions or races. These things are so real to so many people,” Karchut said.
“Most members of the LGTBQ+ aren’t comfortable with themselves, most aren’t even out, so how are we supposed to feel safe coming out, letting the world in, see who we actually are, if things like this still happen?”
Karchut hopes that the media attention drawn to the incident will lead to positive change and accountability for those responsible.
“Hopefully, it shows that this stuff won’t go unnoticed and it can’t go unpunished.”