'Hate-motivated mischief': Police seek suspect after rainbow crosswalk vandalized in Nanaimo

Nanaimo RCMP are searching for this man who is believed to be involved in the vandalism: (Nanaimo RCMP)

Nanaimo RCMP are investigating what they describe as "hate-motivated mischief" after a rainbow-coloured crosswalk was painted over during the weekend.

Police say the rainbow crosswalk was first recommended to the City of Nanaimo in 2016 to show support for the LGBTQ2+ community.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, police say the crosswalk was vandalized.

Mounties say that while the vandalism itself was not caught on camera, images obtained by police show a man walking towards the crosswalk around 3 a.m. while carrying a can of paint and a paintbrush.

Images captured around 4 a.m. then show the man leaving the area near the crosswalk.

"Considering that the crosswalk was painted to recognise the LGBTQ2+ community in Nanaimo, this incident is being treated as a hate-motivated mischief," said Const. Gary O'Brien of the Nanaimo RCMP in a release Monday.

"If a suspect is positively identified and charges laid, this factor may be considered by the courts as an aggravating factor," he said.

Police are now searching for the man, who is described as a white man in his mid-30s with short dark hair. At the time, he was wearing a black  facemask, black shoes, light-coloured shorts and a black T-shirt.

'PEOPLE FEEL UNSAFE'

Lauren Semple, an LGBTQ2+ advocate who was also involved in creating rainbow crosswalks in Nanaimo, says the vandalism is concerning.

"It just really amplifies the fact that it is a targeted act of hate against the LGBTQ2+ community, and they know it hurts," she told CTV News on Tuesday.

"It has ripple effects through the community that will carry on for some time," she said. "And it really makes people feel unsafe."

City crews temporarily repainted the area on Tuesday morning. Semple says she's disappointed the crosswalk wasn't repainted earlier.

The intersection is slated for reconstruction later this year, and the rainbow crosswalk will be remade using a thermoplastic coating, which is more durable than paint, according to the city.

Besides the crosswalk, Semple says a pride mural painted on Wallace Street was also defaced over the weekend.

The mural was painted on a building that's slated for demolition. A fundraiser has since been launched to create a permanent mural in the area in the future.