The mayor of a small British Columbia town is making headlines across the country after she entered a local dollar store, cut up dozens of Confederate flag bandanas and threw them in garbage.
Summerland Mayor Toni Boot, who is Black, said she took a stand against racism after someone attacked the home of a local South Asian family, the Lekhis, by spray painting a swastika and other offensive images, and breaking windows.
That incident and the “uncomfortable” days since then, as the town confronts racism, is the real story, Boot told HuffPost Canada.
“Last week a family in our community was traumatized by overt, racist vandalism,” Boot said. “We, as a community, need to come to terms with the fact that, while we are not a racist town, there is an undercurrent of racism here against all people of colour.
“The attack on the Lekhi family brought this ugly monster to the attention of the community and we need to do better.”
Following the attack, hundreds of residents came out to a rally in support of the family, but a young man in a pickup truck was seen waving a Confederate flag bandana out of his window. Boot said she met with him afterwards and he apologized. He told her he’d bought the bandana at the local Your Dollar Store.
Boot, a couple of supporters and a reporter went to the store last Saturday and offered to pay for the bandanas. The owner Allan Carter gave them to her and she was filmed cutting them into pieces outside the store.
“I needed to make a broader statement that this is not going to happen in our community,” Boot said, adding she told Carter the history of the flag and “how it’s been taken over by white supremacist groups as a symbol of white supremacy, oppression, and hatred of people of colour.”
B.C. Premier John Horgan praised Boot on social media for her leadership and strong stance against racist symbols and for Summerland’s support for the Lekhi family.
“Racism is a virus. I admire Mayor Boot’s leadership in helping stomp it out and build a more inclusive B.C.,” Horgan wrote.
Watch: Thousands gather in Vancouver for anti-racism rally. Story continues below.
Carter wrote a letter to the mayor and council in response to the incident, demanding an apology from Boot whose actions he called “unprofessional.” He said that before he arrived at the store, Boot bullied his staff and left one employee in tears.
Obviously I will not apologize for standing up against racism.Mayor Toni Boot
Carter said he had not specifically ordered the Confederate bandanas, but rather they came in a large shipment of dozens of patterns he’d bought to keep up with a demand for face coverings during the COVID-19 pandemic. He had pulled the Confederate bandanas from the store’s shelves the day before, following the rally.
“It was a mistake because it caused controversy in our town,” Carter told CBC Radio’s Chris Walker. “Some people do consider it as a racist flag, I’m not going to get into it. I don’t know enough about it.”
Carter said his store carried a similar product a few years ago that had resulted in a complaint and he stopped selling them. “I am not a racist,” he said.
Boot said the only thing she regrets is Carter’s response to the incident and said he’s “trying to deflect his business decision and move the conversation away from the racism we have in this town.
“Obviously I will not apologize for standing up against racism.”
She’s received some hateful emails, but also a lot of support and encouragement from people in the community and starting with the town council meeting on Monday, she’s looking for ways to continue the conversation about combating racism.
“I think the town is ready to listen and learn and perhaps do some self-examination,” Boot said.