By Steve Hubrecht

[email protected]

Invermere’s by-election took an odd turn last weekend, when almost all the candidates had their downtown election signs stolen, and then mysteriously returned.

It’s unclear if it was a case of intentional election mischief or just careless drunken antics, but it left most of the candidates disappointed at first, then relieved when the signs were returned.

On Friday, February 10 and Saturday, Feb. 11, several candidate noticed that a few signs, close to the Columbia Valley Centre, had been bent or otherwise damaged. They replaced them. On Sunday, Feb. 12 they found that virtually every election sign along 7th Avenue (Invermere’s main street) for any candidate had been completely removed. The RCMP were notified and have opened a file.

Candidate Juanita Violini posted her dismay on Facebook, pointing out that stealing elections signs constitutes tampering with an election and as such is a serious offence. Fellow candidate, Grey Bradatsch, found that video surveillance footage, taken at the Artym Gallery (of which he is co-owner) showed two individuals taking a sign near Artym, and the thieves had a stack of other signs under their arms. The incident was some time around 1:15 a.m. in the early morning hours of Sunday, Feb. 12. Bradatsch showed the other candidates the footage.

“They (the sign thieves) were probably out having a good time. They may have been a little intoxicated,” said candidate, David Goldsmith.

Later on, after Violini’s Facebook post, Goldsmith noticed all the missing election signs near the Columbia Valley Centre, in a black plastic garbage bag. Goldsmith explained the bag with signs had not been there earlier — they had clearly been ‘returned’, so to speak.

“They (the signs) were all in good shape,” Goldsmith told the Pioneer. “It may have been that they (those who took the signs) realized the folly of their wrongdoing.” He added that it’s clear whoever took the signs seems to have learned a lesson and that, in his opinion, no charges should be laid.

“It’s a sad thing when elections signs are stolen,” said Bradatsch. “But it speaks volumes that they were returned. People realized it’s a big deal and they shouldn’t have done it.”

“It was all quite interesting. I was shocked at first and upset. But I was also intrigued that something like this could happen. I’m new to running for elected office, so I guess I was surprised by the pettiness and pointlessness of it,” said Violini, adding she was glad the candidates got together to try deal with the issue collectively.

Violini said her Facebook post may well have had something to do with the return of the signs, given the coincidental nature of the timing, although she added it’s impossible to know for sure. 

“All of the candidates, we were all curious – why would you do something like that? But, for whatever reason, they saw fit to give the signs back,” said Violini.

Candidate Grant Kelly was not pleased about the stolen signs, but neither was he shocked.

“Having been a downtown small business owner, I’ve unfortunately seen this kind of thing on main street before. Many downtown businesses have been vandalized in the past for no reason,” Kelly told the Pioneer. “Sadly, I suppose it goes with territory downtown. It is, however, still a serious offence. But the people doing these kinds of things probably don’t realize that… It was interesting that the signs were returned. Who knows — perhaps somebody figured out that they shouldn’t have done what they did.”

Stephanie Stevens was the only candidate not to have a sign stolen, but that’s only because she had not placed any signs downtown, and she met with the other candidates to show her support for them.

“I was very disappointed when I learned what had happened (the signs taken) and then heartened when I heard they had been returned. It was a pretty boneheaded thing to do, because it is a serious offence to tamper with an election… It is petty and small minded,” Stevens told the Pioneer. “Ultimately they’re (the signs) back and that’s good. I hope whoever took them feels some remorse. I was proud of the camaraderie we had among the candidates to get together and address this.”