An inter-racial couple nearly driven from their Nova Scotia community when a cross was burned on their lawn is sick of living in fear and looking to leave after their car was found in flames on the weekend.
"This is strike two, we're not waiting for strike three," Michelle Lyon said Monday in a telephone interview from her home near Windsor. "When those two were arrested, we thought that was it. But now this."
Ms. Lyon spoke shortly after returning from court, where one of the men charged in the cross-burning entered a plea of not guilty.
I built this house, so I have real emotional attachment. To make the decision to leave, I had to do that for the kids' safety. Michelle Lyon
The lawyer for 19-year-old Justin Rehberg pleaded not guilty on his behalf, The Canadian Press reported, and his trial was set for October. His brother, 20-year-old Nathan Rehberg, will enter a plea next month. The men, who share a great-grandparent with Ms. Lyon, remain free on bail.
Defence counsel for the brothers could not be reached after court for comment.
RCMP spokeswoman Sergeant Brigdit Leger said that the vehicle fire on Saturday is being probed as suspicious. Investigators have not ruled out the possibility of a hate crime.
"At this point in time, we have not eliminated any possible motivation for this incident," she said.
Ms. Lyon, who is white, and her fiancé, Shayne Howe, the only black man in tiny Poplar Grove, say they were awakened in February by shouts of "die nigger die." They say a noose was dangling from a flaming cross on their lawn, but whoever did it was gone by the time Mr. Howe could get outside.
The incident shocked many in the province, as did the reaction of some prominent members of the black community who said they were not surprised at such overt hostility. One academic called it tangible evidence of the attitudes that cause some black people to call the province "the Mississippi of the North."
It's a legacy Nova Scotia is trying to shake. In February, Halifax apologized for the destruction of Africville, a black community in the city's north end. And last week, the province offered a rare free pardon to Viola Desmond, who was arrested in 1946 and is sometimes called Canada's Rosa Parks.
Mr. Howe and Ms. Lyon received a wave of support in person and through social media. The outpouring helped persuade them to stay in the town, but the second incident has renewed their desire to move to protect their children.
"You shouldn't have to live in fear, the fear [of]what's next" Ms. Lyon said Monday. "I built this house, so I have real emotional attachment. To make the decision to leave, I had to do that for the kids' safety."
She stressed that she didn't want "to point fingers" at the alleged perpetrators of the earlier incident. But she can't help but notice similarities.
"It's hard to think it couldn't be connected," she said.
Ms. Lyons said that her Toyota Echo was being worked on to make it road-worthy and was parked in a relative's driveway near her house. No one local could fail to know it was her car, she added, being the only such vehicle around and bearing a personalized licence plate.
"The family member called me and said, 'your car's on fire, you'd better get down here right away,' " she said. "The gas tank blew, it could've been potentially a very dangerous situation."
That was in the early hours of Saturday. The car was burned so badly, she said, that firefighters were asking her what model it was.