Halifax Regional Police are investigating after a sign directing visitors to the headstone of Viola Desmond in Camp Hill Cemetery was vandalized.
Police say they received a report of the damage on Saturday. When they arrived, officers found three “highly offensive racial slurs” written in marker on the sign.
Wanda Robson, the youngest sister of Viola Desmond, said she was disappointed to learn that the sign was vandalized.
“I feel sorry for people that feel that they have to contribute their bit to the world by [writing] racial slurs [on a sign] directing people to a gravesite, whether it’s Viola Desmond or anybody,” Robson said. “It’s low, it’s low, it’s low. I just don’t know how low you can go.”
Desmond was a civil rights icon who was born and raised in Halifax.
The businesswoman and beautician was jailed in 1946 for sitting in the whites-only section of a New Glasgow, N.S., movie theatre. The theatre’s policy forced black people to sit upstairs in a balcony.
Her case helped end racial segregation in Nova Scotia.
Desmond died in 1965 at age 50.
Robson said when she heard about the vandalism, she wanted to go wash it away herself.
“But that’s not solving a problem. The persons that do that have a problem. I believe they do,” she said.
“And I don’t know if it will never go away because they have the fixed idea in their mind that racism is the way to go, the way to do things, the way to tell the world what they think.”
Robson said she hopes that the vandals learn from their mistakes.
“At the end of the day, we’re all just human beings and they should realize that,” she said. “We’re just people. There are people with different colours, different skin shades, different hair, but at the end of the day, as I said, we are just people.”
The incident is being investigated as a hate crime by the Integrated Criminal Investigation Division.
“Police would like to reinforce that such actions within our community are unacceptable, and anyone planning to initiate or copy such actions can expect to face serious consequences,” Halifax Regional Police said in a release.
“We are conducting a full and thorough investigation, and we seek the public’s support in sending us any information they think may assist investigators with this incident.
Anyone with information or video from any of the areas where the incident occurred is asked to call police at 902-490-5020. Anonymous tips can be sent to Crime Stoppers by calling 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.