Hate speech graffiti, garbages set on fire and broken playgrounds plague park
Wakamow Valley has been the target of vandalism over the past few weeks.
“We have reported all these incidents to the Moose Jaw police and I know they have been investigating, but unfortunately because it’s a big park and there aren’t many people around, we have to rely on people to report it,” CEO of the park Margaret Moran told the Times-Herald on Friday.
Garbages have been lit on fire and hate speech has been spray-painted at various locations.
“We do cover it up right away. We don’t want to leave that,” Moran said. “A lot of people come down to Wakamow Valley for that peaceful walk, and that getting in touch with nature, and when you get bombarded by hateful words on a wall or on a bridge, it’s disturbing.”
Police are investigating the incidents, but Sgt. Rick Johns of the Moose Jaw Police Service said it can be difficult with these types of crimes of opportunity.
“We’re certainly stepping up patrols, especially mountain bike patrols,” he said, adding that these are stealthy ways to sneak up on offenders, unlike a cop car with lights and sirens.
He also said the incident is not being investigated as a hate crime.
“My understanding,” he said, “is that hate crime starts when there is a secondary offence, like an assault.
“We certainly track these types of incidences, and to say there’s not hate speech happening is just not the case.”
The graffiti, however, is not the only offence that has been committed at the park recently. Just in this past week, a piece of playground equipment was also damaged for the second time.
“I don’t know if it’s teenagers who are getting on it and breaking it, maybe innocently. But the fact that it broke twice? You think they would learn,” Moran said, adding that the park is built for children aged three to 12. “It costs us money to repair it, and then we have to sort of ask the question, ‘Should we repair it again, at another cost of over $1,000 just to have it broken again?’”
To add insult to injury, this particular park and piece of equipment was meant for the use of children with cognitive challenges including autism.
“Sometimes, especially with autism, kids can get too stimulated and they have to have a quiet place to calm down before they can rejoin the play, and that’s what this little cocoon did for them,” Moran said of the damaged equipment. “It provides this little area where they can de-stimulate themselves and still be part of the play, not excluded.”
Moran said she hoped it was an accident and that the person who broke the playground would come forward and work towards restitution, but said the fire in the garbage was clearly set deliberately.
“Our concern is we have such a tight budget now, and this is using our resources and not in the best way,” she said. “We could be doing so much more for the park for everybody’s enjoyment, instead of just patching over.”
Despite all the negative aspects, Moran said there has been a small piece of positive news to come out of this. Where someone had painted a slur on a bridge in the park, someone else had come along with another colour of paint, drawn a line through the slur, and wrote “Black lives matter” underneath.
“That was the only bright side that I took out of this whole thing, that maybe someone is out there replying to the hateful things,” she said. “You look at all the hate crimes out there, all the biases that are out there. You’ve got religion, you’ve got race and you’ve got gender. All those things were targeted.”
In any case, the park and the police are calling on the public to help report these crimes.
“We do ask that anybody that sees any vandalism occurring, or sees the aftermath of it, if they can report it to either the Moose Jaw Police or Wakamow Valley,” Moran said. “We don’t want to leave that out there for other people to see. We don’t want people feeling offended when they’re walking through this beautiful little valley when they’re trying to find some peace.”