When Gareth Kirkby first noticed an Xtra newspaper box had been vandalized, he chalked it up to nothing more than an isolated incident.
But when the senior manager for the gay and lesbian publication learned several more of the paper's boxes had been smashed, the light bulb flicked on.
"I felt it in the pit of my stomach when I realized it was a pattern."
Vancouver police are investigating after 14 of Xtra's newspaper boxes were damaged. None of the street stands for other publications were vandalized, and police are trying to determine whether the crime was fuelled by hate.
Mr. Kirkby said he has no doubt.
"To me, it's very clear it's aimed at the gay community," he said.
"If there was a gay person in front of [the culprit] we fear what would happen to that gay person."
Gay bashings made headlines in Vancouver several times in 2010. Statistics Canada released a report in June that said Vancouver was one of Canada's hate-crime capitals. The agency said police investigated 34 crimes based on a victim's sexual orientation in 2008.
In July, Vancouver police announced four men had been arrested in two separate attacks on gay males. Two more men were arrested in connection with a different assault in October.
In November, Shawn Woodward was sentenced to six years in jail for aggravated assault against a gay pub patron. The judge ruled the attack was a hate crime.
Michael Kandola was also convicted of a hate crime in April for punching a man who was holding hands with another gay male. Mr. Kandola received a 17-month sentence.
Mr. Kirkby said Vancouver has made tremendous progress over the past 20 years when it comes to respecting the gay community, but it still has a little distance to go.
"I think in this instance we're talking about someone who really needs some help," he said.
Ken Coolen, president of the Vancouver Pride Society, called the actions "cowardly."
"It's frustrating and it's disappointing. We're going into 2011," he said.
"It sounds like one or a group of people who are homophobic and looking at a way to lash out against the gay community. I guess this is a way of them doing it without thinking they're going to be in as much trouble."
Constable Jana McGuinness, a spokeswoman for the Vancouver Police Department, said while it's too early to call the vandalism a hate crime, "it certainly does look targeted."
She said police are hoping surveillance video will provide some clues. The newspaper boxes were primarily damaged in the city's downtown core between Dec. 25 and Dec. 29. In most of the cases, the glass door was smashed.
Mr. Kirkby said the vandalism would cost the free newspaper about $3,000. He said Xtra's newspaper boxes were attacked in a similar manner in Ottawa in 2006. The damage from that incident, he said, was more than $10,000.