Fort Macleod RCMP have arrested two youths in connection with an incident of vandalism during a Pride event at the historic Empress Theatre.
Last Saturday, the Fort Macleod Pride Committee hosted a drag show at the Empress Theatre as part of the town’s annual Pride celebrations.
Just 10 minutes into the show, audience members began to notice what Denise Joel, who chairs the Empress board, called a “very unpleasant, putrid smell.”
Unbeknownst to those in attendance, a group of youths had begun pouring a noxious black liquid out of a glass container onto the floor.
“They were sitting in the back, and there was no sign that there would be any trouble. All of a sudden, we started to smell something quite unpleasant. Initially, people thought someone had set off a stink bomb,” Joel said.
“They had this container hidden in a bag, and they were leaking that substance onto the floor, beneath their seats, then they got up to leave and continued to leak that substance onto the carpet. When they reached the foyer, they smashed the entire contents of this jar onto the floor.”
Police, having been made aware of the disturbance, were quick to apprehend two suspects as they attempted to flee the scene.
Initially, police were informed that a smoke bomb had been discharged in the theatre, but investigation later revealed that fisher and marten lure oil had been used.
Due to online backlash regarding scheduled Pride events, the town had a heavy police presence during Pride festivities, making this act of vandalism a bold one.
“It didn’t happen just randomly, that’s certainly apparent,” Joel said.
“It was targeted, it was meant to happen at that specific event, and I think that’s very concerning. There is absolutely no place for this kind of act.”
The theatre announced on its social media pages that it will be closed until further notice, while the extent of damages is determined.
“A big part of the issue is that it’s a historic theatre, a lot of what’s damaged is of historic significance, so we’re just ensuring that everything can be cleaned appropriately and properly. We hope, obviously, it can all be restored quickly,” Joel said.
The same day as the Empress incident, another act of vandalism targeting a Pride event was carried out when the community flagpole and Pride flag were torn down and burned.
In the wake of the incidents, both the Empress Theatre and Fort Macleod Pride have received unwavering support from the general public through messages, donations and more.
In a statement issued by the Town of Fort Macleod, members of town council condemned what they referred to as “heinous actions.”
Both the Empress Theatre and Fort Macleod Pride have since issued statements thanking everyone who has stood by them and offered their support.
“The Empress has always been, and will always continue to be, a safe and inclusive place for all. Please remember: Love always wins,” says an online statement from the theatre.
The Empress says it will work with local RCMP, the Town of Fort Macleod and other authorities to identify the best way to move forward.
The two incidents remain under investigation by RCMP.