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The mountain town of Canmore, Alta., in Jan. 2016.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

A popular gourmet food shop with deep roots in the scenic mountain town of Canmore, Alta., is hemorrhaging patrons and distributors after the owner’s son sent a transphobic e-mail to the city’s Pride organization.

Jeff von Rotz, whose e-mail signature had identified him as the owner of Valbella Foods, responded to a request for donations from Canmore Pride Society with transphobic and homophobic remarks about child grooming and mental illness. The e-mail was widely circulated on social media.

The backlash was swift, with high-profile commercial customers such as the historic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel and Jasper Park Lodge, market-style grocer Sunterra Market and the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity publicly cutting ties with Valbella. So did local restaurants and shops in Canmore and elsewhere in Alberta.

On Tuesday, the day the e-mail became public, Valbella released an apology on social media and said Jeff von Rotz had been fired. “The words of the one person do not reflect the opinions of the many people who work as part of the Valbella team,” wrote Chantal von Rotz, his sister.

In a later statement, she clarified that her brother was not an owner, despite his e-mail signature, but was the company’s president. She said their parents, Walter and Leonie von Rotz, own the company, which The Globe and Mail confirmed with corporate registry documents.

Chantal von Rotz said in a statement that Valbella’s priority is to regain community trust. She said the company is reviewing internal policies and plans to implement a new equity, diversity and inclusion plan. Valbella has also reached out to members of the LGBTQ+ community to apologize, the statement said.

Jeff von Rotz did not respond to interview requests from The Globe and has not commented publicly since the e-mail surfaced.

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The Canmore Pride Society said in an e-mail that the group received messages of support from people across Canada. “Love wins,” the e-mail said. “Love always wins.” The group is working with Banff Pride and others to train businesses on how to make their spaces more safe and inclusive.

“The transphobic reply we received from a local business further reinforces the importance of education in our community to keep members of our community safe,” the Canmore Pride e-mail said.

On Friday, the society also wrote a public message on social media offering support to Valbella’s staff, who “are doing their best to make ends meet” and may have also been disappointed at the harmful comments. “We see you. From a place of love and respect, if you’re here for us, we’re here for you.”

Valbella has been in Canmore for more than 40 years, opening in 1978. It sells meat, charcuterie and specialty foods, and distributes products across the province to retailers and restaurants. The company website no longer lists its restaurant partners or retailers, instead displaying an error message.

Members of the public called on numerous businesses this week to discontinue working with Valbella. Fairmont acted almost immediately on Tuesday, stating on social media it was no longer going to work with, or purchase from, Valbella. “We are saddened and disappointed to learn of the hateful remarks made by Valbella, particularly as we are dedicated to fostering an inclusive and safe environment,” it said.

A photo shared by Rusticana Grocery in Canmore showed a sign underneath its Valbella products. In an effort to reduce waste, the sign said, the store would donate all proceeds from the sale of those products to Canmore Pride and immediately seek new suppliers.

An independent restaurant in Edmonton called Fleisch Delikatessen said in a social-media post that they wouldn’t allow hate on their plates. It removed Valbella products from the menu on Wednesday and cancelled forthcoming orders. “We in the strongest terms possible condemn the hateful message that was contained in that e-mail,” Fleisch said. “At a time of rising violence against this community, it’s not okay to stay quiet and do nothing in the face of hate.”

Canmore Mayor Sean Krausert also released a statement in solidarity with the LGBTQIA2S+ community, as did Alberta Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley, who called the comments “horrific” and said they were “rightfully condemned by countless Albertans.”

The storm over the Valbella e-mail spilled over to the Canmore Folk Festival, which said on Thursday that a local crane operator cancelled a contract this week because of the festival’s support for Canmore Pride.

“We are disheartened by this cancellation, but we wholeheartedly stand by our decision to condemn hate speech and exclusion and we stand in solidarity with Pride Canmore and the 2SLGBTQ2+ community at large,” the festival said online.

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