MONTREAL — A transgender woman closed her vegan café in Val-David, in the Laurentians, Que., after acts of vandalism and online harassment, which she says were provoked by her gender identity and political views on Bill 21, Quebec’s religious symbols ban.
A dead bird was found against the door, as well as broken glass and urine, and the café was also robbed. The vandalism started not long after the Vegan Canteen opened in June, owner Sophia Banks told HuffPost Quebec.
But the situation took another turn when she began to express her opposition to Bill 21 on her personal Twitter account in August.
Banks said she received a ton of transphobic and resentful messages, as well as false evaluations on her restaurant Facebook page.
After that, Banks said she no longer felt safe in her café.
“The address and the opening hours were on our Facebook page, people knew where to find us … All this anxiety was mentally and emotionally exhausting,” she said.
“At first, the vandalism, I thought it could be bored teenagers … But it kept going, almost weekly, and then there were the cyber attacks. Every day we were anxious, not knowing what we would find.”
Two weeks ago, Banks decided to close indefinitely, but she said this leaves her with thousands of dollars in debt. She created a Gofundme campaign, and has since surpassed her $4000 goal. She and her girlfriend are moving to British Columbia, where a friend offered them a place to stay. A fundraiser is also coming up at a Montreal restaurant before they leave.
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Val-David’s mayor finds this situation absolutely appalling. She says the Vegan Canteen was an excellent restaurant.
“It’s a big loss for us,” Kathy Poulin told HuffPost Québec.
But still, she understands Banks’ decision.
“I condemn all violent acts. Nobody should feel his security threatened.”
Mayor Poulin would have liked the police to investigate, however.
“Nothing proves that vandalism was against her gender identity or veganism,” added Poulin.
She says vandalism is a rare but recurrent problematic in the village.
“Sometimes we find those responsible, and they are often teenagers at a loose end. It’s a shame, but there is vandalism everywhere.”
Banks didn’t want to file a report with the Sûreté du Québec. She said she does not trust the police.
“Nothing in our experience leads us to feel safe around the police or that they will protect us. If anything, this has been triggering and without getting into detail, some of us have experienced the reality of police violence and brutality and live with the trauma daily,” she wrote on her Gofundme page.
“This is not Val-David”
“This is not Val-David,” said the Mayor. “We are a village where artists and creators choose to live. We are known for welcoming the differences, our tolerance, our open-mindedness.”
She also thinks the cyber attacks against Sophia Banks were not made by Val-David residents.
In a Facebook post made last night, Banks also said she does not want people to think “Val-David is is some awful bigoted town.”
“It’s a lovely place. With lovely people. These problems are everywhere. We all need to make sure we speak up and address bigotry, racism, transphobia, Islamophibia, police brutality, etc.”
Banks probably won’t open another café in B.C. because she feels a little traumatized. But she will continue to make her own vegan cheese, which she’ll try to sell in farmers markets.