The mayor of Summerland, B.C., is declining to apologize for going into a dollar store in the community and cutting up bandanas featuring the image of the Confederate flag that had been part of its inventory.
Toni Boot, who is Black, said that as a person of colour, the symbol of the Confederate states of the U.S. Civil War era on the bandanas represents white supremacy and that it was incumbent on her as a civic leader to take action.
“I absolutely think that it is illustrating what leaders are supposed to be doing,” Ms. Boot said of her conduct. “Making that statement in the way that I did sends a clear message that we are not going to tolerate racism in our town.”
Last Saturday, Ms. Boot went into Your Dollar Store in Summerland with two friends and a newspaper reporter after learning it had sold bandanas featuring the Confederate symbol. Owner Allan Carter eventually provided them to her, and she and her friends cut them up with scissors outside the store.
The mayor offered to buy the Confederate bandanas, but Mr. Carter gave them to her without charge because he said he did not want trouble.
In the aftermath of her visit to the store, Ms. Boot, who has been mayor since 2018, said she has received five e-mails that are threatening in tone and racially charged in their language.
The controversy comes after Ms. Boot was cited by B.C. Premier John Horgan for her leadership as Summerland dealt with the aftermath of a recent racist attack on the home of a South Asian family. That incident involved spray-painted vulgar drawings and a swastika, as well as broken windows.
“She rallied people behind the family and stood up against racist symbols. Racism is a virus. I admire Mayor Boot’s leadership in helping stomp it out and build a more inclusive BC,” the Premier said in a tweet.
Sergeant Dave Preston of the Summerland RCMP detachment said Wednesday the department has reviewed a complaint filed by staff at the store and concluded there is no basis for charging the mayor for harassment.
As for the correspondence to the mayor, he said it does not meet the threshold of a hate crime nor have serious threats been brought to his attention.
Ms. Boot said she did not bully the staff. “I was firm. There’s no doubt about that,” she said, adding that she was committing a “blatant and overt” act of anti-racism.
Mr. Carter alleges the mayor was oppressive in her tone and approach. “The mayor was extremely aggressive and bullying to my staff,” he said Wednesday.
He said his store sold more than 2,500 bandanas of various patterns and that the order included some with the Confederate symbol, which were pulled from sale.
“It was a poor decision on my part to put them on the floor. I did not do anything illegal, but in hindsight, I wish I had not done that, put them on the floor,” he said.
Council members expressed disappointment at the turn of events.
Richard Barkwill said in an e-mail that a more conciliatory and educational approach would have benefited all parties. “The headline I would like to have seen is ‘Mayor joins store owner to fight racism.‘”
Marty Van Alphen said the mayor’s conduct has been a regrettable distraction. “Unfortunately this incident has overshadowed the positive response from the community in support of the Lekhi family,” he said in an e-mail, referring to the family targeted in the racist incident.
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