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Toronto ridings spooked by spate of tire slashings

Dr. Eric Hoskins celebrates his win in the St. Paul's riding, kissing his wife. Sept. 17, 2009.

Della Rollins For The Globe and Mail/della rollins The Globe and Mail

Typically, tire slashing in Toronto is written off as the handiwork of troublesome young people prone to fits of mischief when under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both.

This is election time, however, and a spate of vehicle vandalism in two mainly affluent pockets of the city has some residents wondering whether their brand of federal politics has made them a target. Nearly all of the victims had Liberal signs affixed to their front lawns.

"This is Canada. It's a free country. It's not supposed to be like this," said one victim, whose elderly Chinese parents were so spooked by the attack on the family's blue Volvo they asked their daughter not to reveal her name to the media.

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All four of the Volvo's tires had been rendered flat sometime Friday night, likely punctured. It was one of at least five vehicles vandalized in the Annex, part of the Trinity-Spadina riding. This had never happened to the family before in their 40 years of living in the neighbourhood. They also had never put up a federal lawn sign before.

"I'm sure that it is a reason," their daughter said of the show of Liberal support. "It's completely uncalled for. Whoever did it, I don't know what they can accomplish."

As neighbours in the Annex speculate on who is behind the tire attacks - Toronto Liberal MPP Eric Hoskins' vehicle was also hit - Toronto police detectives are working to piece together a motive. They're also trying to determine whether the vandalism is connected to a Thursday night spree near Bayview Avenue and Eglinton Avenue East in Davisville. In that instance, roughly 20 vehicles were damaged, their tires punctured or body paint scratched.

And prominent Liberal Bob Rae, a candidate in Toronto-Centre, revealed via Twitter on Saturday that his front left tire was slashed that morning, though no other details were disclosed.

Liberal candidate Carolyn Bennett believes the vandalism in her St. Paul's riding, which includes Davisville, is politically motivated. At this stage of their investigation, police aren't prepared to make that leap. A person of interest has been identified in the Davisville case. But as of Sunday afternoon, officers hadn't located the white man who had been seen in the area wearing a dark leather jacket, blue pants and white baseball cap.

"Until the culprit is apprehended, the motives can't be confirmed," said Toronto Police Staff Sgt. Andy Norrie.

Theories abound, however.

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Trinity-Spadina resident Judy Keeler points the finger at "extreme right-wing organizations who are against a liberal mindset."

On Saturday, Ms. Keeler discovered her car and garage had been vandalized, the second time in two months. This time, all four tires of her silver Pontiac Sunfire were slashed, the outside of her car was scratched, and "Lie beral scum" was spray painted in gold letters on the side of her garage.

"This is a politically motivated act of vandalism. It is not just about the federal election," said Ms. Keeler, who canvasses for local Liberal candidate Christine Innes and has sported Barack Obama stickers on her Pontiac, an homage to her American roots. She believes the Obama stickers motivated the first attack, and her neighbour's Liberal lawn sign motivated the latest one.

But in the riding of Trinity-Spadina, the Conservatives weren't much of a factor in the 2008 campaign, finishing a distant third.

On Ms. Keeler's street near the University of Toronto, there's not one sign of support for Conservative candidate Gin Siow. The election battle, here at least, remains between Ms. Innes and Olivia Chow of the NDP. Ms. Chow defeated Ms. Innes by nearly 3,500 votes in the 2008 campaign.

The political rivals have each condemned Friday night's vandalism, characterizing it as intimidation. In a statement, Ms. Chow said the slashing of tires was "an affront to the democratic process and freedom of expression."

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Conservative Leader Stephen Harper also denounced politically motivated vandalism while campaigning in the Victoria area Sunday.

In the Annex, political differences haven't stirred animosity among neighbours, said resident Dr. Hoskins, a Grit MPP who represents the provincial riding of St. Paul's.

On his tree-lined avenue, Liberal, NDP and Green Party signs all compete for attention. Dr. Hoskins has a Liberal sign on his front lawn; so does a next-door neighbour. Both had their tires punctured in Friday night's spate, which police estimate occurred between 8 and 11 p.m.

The tire slasher proved brazen. Unlike the nearby blue Volvo, which was parked in a driveway by the road, Dr. Hoskins' car and his neighbour's were parked at the back of their homes, requiring the culprit or culprits to walk about 30 metres between the two red brick houses. Movement would have triggered a bright security light.

"For me it's not a partisan thing. I don't think any of us should get too hung up on what colour the sign was," Dr. Hoskins said. "The important thing, I think, is that Canadians were intimidated. An attempt was made, presumably, to suppress their vote."

With a report from Steven Chase

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