Petrolia man told to remove anti-gay message

Ralph Baker was told to take down a billboard condemning homosexuality, abortion and marijuana use that he rented near Dresden, because of the controversy it was generating.

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Ralph Baker was told to take down a billboard condemning homosexuality, abortion and marijuana use that he rented near Dresden, because of the controversy it was generating.

The Chatham Daily News contacted the elderly Petrolia man on Tuesday, after learning the billboard was taken down on Monday, to ask if he wanted to take it down.

“No, why would I?” Baker responded.

He said the property owner wanted him to take it down because of all the controversy it was creating. He added the message on the billboard was removed before he had a chance to do it himself.

Baker refused to divulge the name of the property owner. The billboard was located at the corner of Countryview Line and Kent Bridge Road.

Calls to the telephone number on the billboard where inquires could be made to rent the space would not go through on Tuesday.

Baker said the billboard served its purpose, adding it went viral resulting in him fielding calls from across Canada.

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“The phone’s just been red hot, it’s unbelievable. I haven’t been able to do anything except answer the phone calls,” he said.

Baker added his mailbox has been full as well.

“It’s just been beyond my wildest belief, the response.”

When asked what kind of response has been generated, Baker said, “I would say the majority have been against it, big time.”

When asked if this show of support for LGBTQ community has done anything to sway his opinion, Baker said: “Certainly not.”

Citing his religious beliefs, he questioned how anyone could tell God, the creator of heaven and earth, that He has messed up on this issue.

The Chatham-Kent Gay Pride Association issued a media release late Monday night thanking Baker removing the billboard.

However, when association president Marianne Willson learned it was the landowner who wanted the billboard taken down, she expressed her appreciation to the property owner in an e-mail.

“We are very happy to have this message no longer in the landscape, and it has inspired our community to continue to celebrate the diversity and love that is represented in Chatham-Kent,” said Willson in the release.

“This experience shows us all that our work is not done,” she added. “We will continue to embrace the inclusivity, love and unity that exists. We will continue to build an open and safe community for everyone.”

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Aaron Neaves, national representative for Unifor, is glad what he describes as such as both a homophobic and misogynistic message has been removed.

However, he believes this should be a municipal issue, “because it could creep up again.”

Neaves challenges every candidate and incumbent running in Chatham-Kent’s municipal election to “clarify their position (on this) as soon as possible.”

Noting that “inclusiveness builds, exclusiveness destroys,” he said the messages on the billboard hurt the momentum of the first pride parade held in Chatham-Kent on Aug. 18.

“We need to be making room for the LGBTQ community, not putting up barriers and walls,” Neaves said.

Regarding the message about abortion, he said, “That’s a women’s issue.

Women’s reproductive rights belong to women, not men.”

The Municipality of Chatham-Kent issued a statement late Tuesday regarding the removal of the controversial messages, stating it became aware of the billboard late last week and began an investigation into whether it violated any bylaws or regulations over which the municipality has control.

Chatham-Kent police was also in the process of determining whether the message violated the Criminal Code of Canada.

“The billboard is on private property and the municipality was not contacted in advance regarding its content, nor was it advised as to its removal,” said the media release.

The statement noted Chatham-Kent is a welcoming community, citing the fact the municipality was designated as Canada’s first welcoming community for Syrian refugees two years ago.

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The statement also noted Chatham-Kent recently proclaimed Pride Week and held a dedication for a rainbow crosswalk earlier this month.

“As in any community, there are people who hold different views on a variety of subjects, however, Chatham-Kent mayor and council have demonstrated through their leadership and actions that we welcome an open, inclusive and diverse community,” the statement concluded.

Baker had a mixed message when asked if he planned to erect a similar billboard in another location.

“In this day and age, that is probably not the best way to do it,” he said.

However, Baker then added he has plans to erect a bigger and better sign.

But he didn’t want to discuss it further.

eshreve@postmedia.com

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