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BEHIND THE SCENES: Crosses for Change hit by vandals - again reporter Jenny Lamothe takes us behind the scenes

The Crosses for Change memorial site, located at Paris and Brady streets in downtown Sudbury, has recently fallen victim to vandalism for the second time in as many weeks, prompting questions about the motives behind these acts.

Following the second incident, a 38-year-old woman was arrested, although she was not linked to the earlier act of vandalism.

In the aftermath of both incidents, dedicated volunteers came together to reset the crosses at the memorial site. However, due to the repeated acts of vandalism, the crosses were not in their original order, and many of the special gifts and flowers left in tribute were ruined.

According to information provided by the Greater Sudbury Police, they responded to a call reporting an individual shouting at the crosses on the morning of Sunday, July 16. Upon arriving at the scene, officers discovered that several crosses had been forcibly removed from the ground. They apprehended an individual matching the description given by witnesses, who was found behind a line of trees near the site.

The arrested individual, aged 38, faced charges of Mischief - Interfere with Lawful Use and Mischief to Religious and/or Educational Site. She appeared in court on July 16 and has been remanded into custody. It is essential to remember that the accusations against her are yet to be proven in court, and she is considered innocent until proven guilty.

The memorial, known as Crosses for Change, began with the placement of the first cross in the fall of 2020, in front of the fire station on Paris Street near the Bridge of Nations. Denise Sandul erected this memorial in memory of her son, Miles Keaney, who lost his life to an overdose in September of that year. The idea resonated with others, and soon more crosses were added to the site. The increasing number of crosses necessitated moving the memorial to its current location at Paris and Brady streets.

The site now holds close to 270 white crosses, most of which were targeted during the recent acts of vandalism. While the memorial is significant to families who have lost loved ones to opioid toxicity, it has also stirred grief in a community already struggling with sorrow, serving as a constant reminder of death, as noted by outreach workers.

Unfortunately, the memorial has had unintended consequences as well. In its early days, some people, mistakenly believing their loved ones were deceased, erected crosses for individuals who were still alive. This led to relapses into active addiction for some.

Kaela Pelland, director of peer engagement for Réseau ACCESS Network, expressed her concern for the vulnerable people she works with, many of whom are affected by drug use. She speculates that the compounded grief, trauma, and frustration experienced by these individuals might have contributed to the recent vandalism.

Addressing the opioid crisis is crucial for the City of Greater Sudbury, and they are currently planning a local leadership summit with the goal of tackling this pressing issue. Data from Ontario's Chief Coroner, Dr. Dirk Huyer, indicates a significant increase in opioid toxicity-related deaths in the area since 2013, with the rate surpassing even the provincial average. The summit is expected to bring together key stakeholders to find solutions to this devastating problem, especially considering the alarming rise in opioid-related deaths among individuals aged 30 to 49.

In conclusion, the Crosses for Change memorial site in Sudbury has experienced recent acts of vandalism, which have raised concerns and prompted discussions about the motivations behind such actions. As the community grapples with the opioid crisis, the memorial serves as a poignant reminder of the lives lost to drug overdoses, while also highlighting the need for comprehensive measures to address the issue.

Video Summary:

The Crosses for Change Memorial in Sudbury has experienced vandalism twice within a short period. The incidents do not appear to be connected. After the first incident, volunteers quickly came together to reset the crosses, but some of the special gifts and remembrances left at the site were damaged. In the second incident, a 38-year-old woman was arrested after shouting at the crosses and pulling some of them out of the ground. Despite the damage, the memorial has been restored with the help of volunteers.

Speculations about the woman's motivations for the vandalism are still uncertain. However, there are concerns that the intense grief associated with the memorial can have a significant impact on vulnerable individuals. Some people have mistakenly found crosses for themselves while still alive, causing emotional turmoil. While the memorial has provided a place of remembrance for families who lost loved ones to opioid toxicity, it has also unintentionally caused additional grief for those still struggling with addiction.

Although several families regularly visit the memorial, there haven't been many public statements from them regarding the recent acts of vandalism. The memorial began with a single cross erected by Denise Sandul in memory of her son, Miles Keaney, but it has grown to include over 270 crosses, each representing lives lost to opioid-related incidents. Families often visit the site to honor their loved ones.

Overall, the Crosses for Change Memorial holds great significance for many families in Sudbury, but it has also brought unintended consequences, highlighting the complex emotions and struggles associated with the opioid crisis.