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Michelle Lyon and her partner Shayne Howe at their home in Hants county, Nova Scotia. The couples car was lit on fire a a neighbuors house over the weekend. They had been victims to a cross burning on their yard in February. (Paul Darrow for the Globe and Mail)PAUL DARROW/The Globe and Mail

It would be a terrible defeat for Nova Scotia if a biracial family in Poplar Grove, northwest of Halifax, were driven from their home by a second episode of hateful violence, the torching of their car, after a cross-burning on their lawn last winter. It would be as if the community had given in to its worst elements, those who would use intimidation and terror to further their ends. This is a problem that falls not to the government, police and courts alone. It is for the community to take ownership of.

It is understandable, of course, that Shayne Howe, who is black, and Michelle Lyon, who is white, have decided to pack up and move with their five children. "The safety of the children is the most important," the 34-year-old Ms. Lyon said yesterday. (She does not intend to disclose whether they will leave Nova Scotia.) A cross burning on a front lawn stands for a reign of terror once led by the Ku Klux Klan, and others of its ilk. "Often the cross-burner intends that the recipients of the message fear for their lives," the United States Supreme Court has said. "And when a cross-burning is used to intimidate, few if any messages are more powerful."

Two brothers aged 19 and 20 have been charged in the cross-burning, and have yet to go to trial. On Saturday, two days before one of the brothers pleaded not guilty, Ms. Lyon's car was set aflame. Even if these acts are aberrations, as they seem to be (there's no history of similar crimes in the area), it does not matter. An act of such extreme intimidation drives a wedge in the community. The community has a strong stake in holding together.

But what can a community do? People can watch out for one another. What better place for a neighbourhood watch than in Nova Scotia, where neighbours know one another. After the cross-burning in February, neighbouring areas organized a Walk of Love. A Facebook site set up for Mr. Howe's and Ms. Lyon's family received 10,000 hits. "The support was overwhelming," Ms. Lyon said. "It was one of the big parts that made us want to stay."

It was only last week that the province's Lieutenant-Governor, Mayann Francis, who is black, on the advice of cabinet, sought to rectify a 1946 injustice in which Viola Desmond was convicted after attending a segregated movie. But that was about yesterday; the acts of intimidation directed at Shayne Howe and Michelle Lyon are about the present and future of the province.

John Wesley Chisholm, in a comment published on the Halifax Chronicle Herald's website, put it eloquently: "This crime against Shayne and Michelle is a crime against us all, every citizen of Nova Scotia. . . it deprives our children of their right to say we live in a better place, a place where everyone is welcome and greeted with happy open arms. It robs Nova Scotia of our decency and our rich history shared with all people. Through the court and within our hearts we are not going to tolerate it."

This is no time for the silent majority to sit quietly by. If enough people in the community deliver Mr. Chisholm's message, Mr. Howe, Ms. Lyon and family may yet feel secure enough, and valued enough, to stay in their home.