As It Happens

Ontario mother worried for son after intruder spray-paints 'N--ga lover' in his girlfriend's room

The Niagara Regional Police are investigating a break-and-enter as a hate crime after a disturbing racist message was left on a teenager's wall. Shannon Hannigan says her son hasn't been the same since he was targeted by the slur.
Jayden's mom, Shannon Hannigan is worried the racist incident will affect her son for years to come. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

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Jayden and Ruby are high school sweethearts.

They're both in Grade 10 at Lakeshore Catholic High School, in Port Colborne, Ont. They've been dating for about six months.

But now, their relationship is at the center of what the Niagara Regional Police are calling a hate crime.

Earlier this month, Ruby's house was broken into, trashed, and vandalized. Someone spray-painted "N--ga lover" on the walls of her bedroom — a racial slur directed at their interracial relationship. 

This message was spray-painted in Ruby Benner's room. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

Police are investigating, but no arrests have been made, and they have no suspects. Shannon Hannigan is Jayden's mother. She spoke with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann about the how the crime has affected her son. Here is part of their conversation.

Helen Mann: Ms. Hannigan, how is your son holding up now? It's been two weeks since this break-in at his girlfriend's house. How is he coping?

Shannon Hannigan: It's getting better. I think with the news coverage and everybody supporting him. But he had a really hard time with it before that. After the break-in, he was scared. He didn't want to leave the house. He didn't want to go to school. But he has attended school this week, so it is getting better.

HM: How is Ruby doing?

SH: Ruby is doing good. She has Jayden. They're on the phone every night. She cries a lot and he tries to console her, because she is more invaded. They went into her bedroom. They violated her personal space. She is having a real hard time dealing with it.

Jayden Hannigan speaks out following racist incident

CBC News Toronto

4 years ago
0:45
A Port Colborne family speaks out after thieves broke into their house and left a racist message in the daughter's bedroom. 0:45

HM: What did you think when you first heard what was written on that wall in her room?

SH: I just felt horrible for my son. I felt like how do I explain this to him? How do I make him understand that some people are just like that? How do I keep him safe? How do I make him think our home is going to be safe, since her home wasn't?

HM: Has Jayden ever faced this kind of thing before — has he experienced racism?

SH: He's experienced verbal racism. He is a really good hockey player. We all know that hockey is considered the white man's sport. Like in our community, it's fine. But when we go outside of the community, and we go to tournaments and things, since he was eight years old, I think that was the first time we heard the N-word.

They've made someone who is so fun-loving and easy-going into someone who is anxious and scared and doesn't want to leave his own house. They've robbed me of my child.- Shannon Hannigan

HM: You have an interracial family, what kind of advice have you been able to give Jayden and Ruby since this happened, based on your own experience?

SH: I've just told them that I love them and that I'm here to support them. It's just something that when you step outside of society's view of what normal is, in a small town, in a community that isn't as diverse as if you moved 20 minutes into St. Catharines, but now that we are in such a small, isolated community we just have to be strong. We have to stick together and keep our shoulders back and our heads held high and let everybody know that this isn't going to define us and this isn't going to make us who they think we are or who they want us to be. We're going to keep moving forward in being the good, kind people that we are.

Ruby's father, Tim Benner, found his home ransacked and thought it was a just a break-in. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

HM: The police told CBC that they are treating this as a hate crime. Is that something that you support?

SH: Absolutely. I definitely support that. I think that the police need to get the information out there. They need to get it out into our community and people need to know that just because we're in a small community doesn't mean that racism doesn't hit us just like it hits everywhere else in the world.

HM: The police have said they have no suspects at this point. What do you want the person that did this to know?

SH: I just want them to know that to them it was words on a wall or I don't really know what their thoughts were but they've changed a family. They've changed a boy into a man. They've made someone who is so fun-loving and easy-going into someone who is anxious and scared and doesn't want to leave his own house. They've robbed me of my child.

HM: Do you think that's what they had in mind?

SH: No, I don't. I think they were just being young kids and they thought "haha" we're going to write this. I can't even wrap my mind around why someone would write something like that but they've hurt him more than they could have hurt him if they'd just come up to him and wanted to have a fight. This is going to stay with my son, forever and ever. He is a changed boy.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Shannon Hannigan.

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