Family speaks out after 'N--ga lover' spray-painted in teen's room
Port Colborne family encourages other hate-crime victims to come forward
At first, Tim Benner thought it was just a break-in. He found his furniture trashed, computers stolen and walls spray painted.
But three hours into the police investigation, officers alerted him to a message written on the wall in his daughter's room. Someone had spray-painted "N--ga lover" in large letters.
"I was pretty shaken up. I sat down on the bed and cried. I'm still in shock," said Benner about the incident, which occurred on Feb. 15. "It was a big decision to show [my daughters] this. This has to be brought out and brought forward to let my kids know this is not right."
Someone who knows the kids
Benner said whoever wrote the racist message knows his family or his daughter, Ruby, 16. It happened in broad daylight and over the course of 45 minutes, according to Benner.
The family lives on a farm outside Port Colborne, which is near the Welland Canal on Lake Erie in the Niagara Region about 147 kilometres south of Toronto. Because of a long, unpaved laneway, the house is not visible from the road.
"It's obviously somebody that knows my kids," Benner said. He told CBC Toronto he's "dead set" against racism and hate crimes like this one.
"Otherwise, she would not be dating a black boy," he said
That boy is Jayden Hannigan, 15. Ruby and Jayden, both in Grade 10 at Lakeshore Catholic High School in Port Colborne, have been going out for half a year.
"Some nights, she's crying and I'm just trying to say it's all right," Jayden told CBC Toronto.
"I just think to myself not everyone is racist or not everyone thinks of me different, or her, because she's dating a different colour," he said.
"It's hard to think about, to imagine who would do this," said Ruby quietly through tears. "It's crazy."
'They've robbed our family'
Jayden's mom, Shannon Hannigan, is worried the incident will affect her son for a long time to come.
"He doesn't want to go to school. He doesn't want to go to hockey. He doesn't want to leave my house," she said. "That's not fair to a kid who should be worried about what he's doing Friday night, what video game he wants to play.
"That's not Jayden. They've done something to his psyche. They've taken my innocent child and made him into something he's not. They've robbed my family."
Jayden says he tries to stay strong for his girlfriend, Ruby, but admits he's affected. "I feel like people look at me different now," he said. "Before, I thought I fit into everyone."
Niagara Regional Police don't have any suspects yet, but they're calling the incident a hate crime. The force says over the last two years, the overall number of hate crime investigations is down:
- 2016: 10 cases
- 2015: 13 cases
None have resulted in charges.
"A hate crime has to fall under certain criteria," said Const. Virginia Moir. In the Niagara region, most of the incidents involve spray-painted messages, "where a suspect has not been identified," she said.
The Toronto Police Service could not provide numbers for 2016, but their statistics for the previous two years suggest hate crimes were also down over that period and arrests were low.
- 2015: 134 cases; 19 arrests
- 2014: 146 cases; 22 arrests
According to the 2015 Annual Hate/Bias Crime Statistical Report, Toronto police say the rate of arrests and charges is low because many cases involve vandalism and people are often not home when the crime occurs. As a result, there are often no witnesses.
Rinaldo Walcott, director of Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto, said charges and convictions for hate crimes are rare for a number of reasons.
"Police are badly trained on what to look for," he told CBC Toronto. "And hate crimes are a matter of interpretation and difficult to argue in court in terms of burdens of proof required for conviction."
Meanwhile, the Benner and Hannigan families are hoping their story will empower anyone who experiences racism to speak out.
"Hopefully, other people will come forward and not sit back and take it, and not give these criminals the satisfaction of getting away with something like this," Tim Benner said.