Afua Cooper says she is still shocked and angry that someone has stolen the pan-African unity flag from Dalhousie University's campus in Halifax.
"The best-case scenario is … that an enthusiastic student wanted the flag to be part of his or her collection. Worst-case scenario — white supremacists stole the flag," said Cooper, a professor and the James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies at the university.
The red, green and black flag was raised with great fanfare for the first time at Dalhousie before a crowd of about 300 people on Feb. 2 to kick off African Heritage Month.
Civil rights pioneer Marcus Garvey and members of the United Negro Improvement Association adopted the flag in 1920. It represents people of African descent, blood that was shed and the motherland, Africa.
"It was a flag that symbolized the unity of black people worldwide," Cooper said.
Police investigation continues
Halifax Regional Police received a call about the theft from Dalhousie Security on March 2.
"Apparently they believe between February 24 and February 27 somebody had knocked over the flagpole and taken the flag at that time," police spokewoman Const. Dianne Penfound said Tuesday.
Campus video surveillance did not yield any clues. Police have no suspects.
Anyone who may have witnessed the theft or knows where the flag ended up is asked to call police.
'It was very demoralizing'
Cooper said the theft conveyed a clear message.
"The message was as a black community at Dalhousie in Halifax, that we were not welcome, that our issues and our struggles were not seen by certain forces as valid, and that we as a people, as a community, were not validated," she said.
"It was very demoralizing. I can tell you I was demoralized for a few days."
In an open statement to the university community on Monday, president Richard Florizone called the theft disturbing.
"Dalhousie is proud to have been the first Canadian university to raise the pan-African flag on its campuses, an important step in creating a culture grounded in diversity and inclusiveness," Florizone wrote.
New flag will be removed nightly
To recognize the importance of March 21, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discirimination, on Tuesday the university replaced the stolen flag with a second pan-African flag as "a symbol of allegiance and strength.
It will fly until Friday. But until then, the flag will be taken down nightly so it doesn't get stolen. Cameras have also been installed near the flagpole.
Arig al Shaibah, Dalhousie's acting executive director of human rights and equity services, said the university reached out to students, staff and faculty of African descent after the theft to show solidarity and offer support.
"We have a critical mass of faculty, staff and students who are really in support of our vision for a diverse community, a respectful community, a community that institutionalizes equity," al Shaibah said.