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Gay couple burned from PEI home

Gay couple burned from PEI home

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Brazen attack leaves community reeling, victims terrified
More than 100 people tap their feet and clap their hands to live Celtic music. A nice lady sells homemade fudge and a few more locals watch over a basket as it fills with donations.

They’re here at the Little Pond Community Centre, about 65 km northeast of Charlottetown, PEI, to raise money and show support for Bill and Lou, a gay couple who were burned out of their home after a firebomb crashed through one of their windows in the early morning hours of Oct 18. The couple were asleep in their bed, but as the flames spread, Bill pulled Lou out of the house, through the mud to safety.

Maureen Campbell-Hanley organized the fundraising event. The community centre sits minutes away from the mangled, blackened remains of the house.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of something so vile happening on the island,” she says.

Tonight is for Bill and Lou, but they’re not here. Campbell-Hanley says they would have loved to have seen the community support, but they are still so “overwhelmed.” They opted to send a statement thanking the concert goers, who came out despite stormy conditions and icy roads.

A long-time friend of the couple, Loretta Campbell (Campbell-Hanley’s sister), tells me Bill and Lou were “torn, upset and scared” about attending tonight. But she pulls out her phone, dials and asks Bill if he will speak with me.

Bill, who prefers that Xtra publish only their first names, says whoever attacked his home did it because they hate homosexuals. He knows this because this isn’t the first time they’ve been targeted. Previously, someone burned their roadside mailbox – a makeshift replacement now lies in the snow in front of the charred ruins of their home – and before that they received a religious-themed note condemning their sexuality. Then came the firebombing.

“We’re at the bottom,” he says of how he and Lou are coping. “It was our sanctuary.”

This attack has left them living in fear, says Bill.

“They know what I look like,” he explains. “They know who we are, but we have no clue who they are. We are in constant awareness of our surroundings.”

For all they know, their attacker could be one, or more, of their neighbours. Still, they would like to think that’s not the case. It’s because of that fear, that concern for their safety, that Bill and Lou have avoided speaking to the press and want to keep their last names off the record.

They’ve already started over twice before, says Bill, so having their pictures “plastered across Canada” could keep them from finding peace.

Because this recent disaster was an attack, not an accident, Bill says he “can’t tell [his] partner he’s safe.”

He worries about Lou’s ability to defend himself, with someone so intent on hurting them. Lou has a physical disability and is also fighting cancer. “I have to protect my family,” Bill asserts.

It’s clear their story is more complex than the mainstream media has been able to report without speaking to the couple, but Campbell-Hanley says she feels the press could have covered the story more deeply.

“It was very lightly covered and very ineffectively covered,” she says, adding she is surprised by the lack of gay community support in the local media following the fire. “The silence was deafening.”

There is also too much silence from the police, says Jeff Fitzgerald, an executive member of the Abegweit Rainbow Collective (ARCPEI).

“If it’s a crime against the gay community, it’s not taken seriously at first,” he says. “The police forces on the island have this public campaign going about ‘We’re putting these investigations online… call in with tips.’ But with this investigation, it’s silence.

“It doesn’t send a good message to the gay community… when the people who are investigating this crime are not coming forward and saying ‘We do have a lead/we don’t have a lead.’”

The RCMP is investigating the fire as arson, but Sgt Denis Morin says there are no plans to consider it a hate crime. Finding the person who set the house on fire is the first priority.

Bill hopes silence from the police means they are working hard on the case, but despite the small size of Little Pond nobody has heard rumours or tips.

In the meantime, it’s not just the Little Pond Community Centre contingent who are rallying behind Bill and Lou. A crowd came together on Saturday, Nov 20 in Charlottetown for a hug-in around the cenotaph. Then again, on Monday, Nov 22, a public forum was held on safety for the queer community.


Comments

Bigoted Maritimers
It's always been narrow-minded in the Maritimes, and I guess PEI is no exception. This crap does not happen in Calgary. Far more tolerant in this city. Gay pride went on for a week - this city is more tolerant than Vancouver, even. We don't put up with violence - got better police than that.
Scapegoat's are not called for.
David, Conservatives in Atlantic Canada are different then ones in Ontario or in Alberta. Using them as a scapegoat is not called for. This is homophobia but more as a isolated case . Yes the story is tragic but I think we can not jump to conclusions just yet because for one this still is being investigated by Police. Also by blaming the Conservative Party for this mess is really not needed. For one Conservatives in PEI care more about the environment then the bible and federally most Islanders do vote for the Liberal Party. Also it was under a Conservative government in PEI that legalize same sex unions and the same party in Nova Scotia. I can not understand why the Conservative Party would even be brought into this since there seems to be no connection to this case.
Welcome To Conservative Canada
Canadians are becoming more and more like Americans. Oblivious to intelligent reason and rational thought. We've become like dogs that only understand fear and instant gratification. It will get worse and has been gradually. This doesn't surprise me one bit.
Ed's note
Hi Liesl: Little Pond Fire Victims Fund. Donations may be made at: Metro Credit Union Charlottetown and Stratford Branch, Souris Credit Union or by mail via cheque made payable to Little Pond Fire Victims Fund to Excel Accounting Services 97 Kensington Road Charlottetown, PE C1A 5J3
How can we help?
Has an online donation campaign started? I'd love to show my support by donating, as I cannot believe this despicable thing happened, especially in a time of need while they're battling such health problems.
very sad indeed
My sincerest sympathies to Bill and Lou who have lost their home to a violent anti-gay bigot at an already difficult time in their lives dealing with a serious illness. It must be especially distressing at such a time to lose your home and to live in fear until at least this guy is caught. I can't imagine how hard it must be with the bigot who's targeting them still at large. I can understand why police in such a case as this where there's not a lot of evidence yet wouldn't say whether it was a hate crime or not since they likely don't have any hard evidence of motive yet but they should definitely be considering it as a potential hate crime at the very least, maybe with more media attention the police investigating this case will treat it with the gravity it deserves, its not just a house being burnt down but a whole series of attacks against them that are increasing in severity. I would be terrified right now if I were them knowing the guy responsible is still on the loose. Its a shame to hear about the lack of media attention to their case but the community support is encouraging, showing this violent anti-gay bigot his type isn't welcome is an important statement for all to hear and not just the guy responsible, in my opinion.
Over the years
As someone who moved to the Island as a teen, I felt at that time that I had travelled back about 20 years in mainstream and forward thinking. 25 years later, I am back here, and although there have been strides made in acceptance, this issue and the countless unreported ones, clearly point out that homophobia is still a major issue in this province. The RCMP is investigating the fire as arson, but Sgt Denis Morin says there are no plans to consider it a hate crime. Finding the person who set the house on fire is the first priority." And this would be the reason... It takes something of magnitude to happen to someone of "importance" for the Police Services to actually react, and carry out proper investigations here. Unless you or your parents are considered important... well............... Bill and Lou, you are cared for by the entire Island community..
Sympathy
My heartfelt sympathies to Bill & Lou. This story will sadden many people. Rural people in Cape Breton live in fear of this particular kind of vandalism. House burning used to be a method of vigilante justice, used when rural Nova Scotians took justice into their own hands. (So, the arsonist could be an older person who enacts anti-queer morality.) However, it could also be the work of reasonless, hopeless young people who have no idea of justice. Regardless of legal progress, we still live beneath systemic homophobia.
Why be surprised?
Speaking as someone who left Prince Edward Island seven years ago, I wasn't surprised to hear that this sort of thing happened. Open homophobia thankfully isn't common; homophobia is more of the quiet sort, something characterized by subtle slights and gossip campaigns. It fits into a local tradition of mild xenophobia, with distinctions drawn between Islanders--people of established background--and mainlanders, never the twain shall meet. As for the region of Prince Edward Island where this happened, Eastern Kings County is a largely rural area replete with sectarian and ethnic bigotry. My family's background is there. Learning the firebombing happened there did not surprise me at all.
OMG
I can not imagine what it must be like for these two to be going through such an experience. Huge kudos to those who are stepping up and reaching out to help them.

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