The city is continuing to discuss how best to deal with hate activities in Hamilton two days after yet another rally in the city hall forecourt.
During Monday’s general issues committee meeting, councillors voted unanimously in favour of a governance model that will oversee the consultation process on the city’s anti-hate strategy.
That model includes hiring an external project manager “with expertise and experience” related to hate mitigation.
Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann also asked staff to consider having someone stationed at city hall on weekends who could field reports of hate incidents, adding that she’s heard from residents who feel there is a lack of support at city hall on Saturdays.
“We do need some sort of presence in the building residents can turn to,” said Nann.
“Given that the nature of the counter protest is unorganized, it’s quite grassroots. It’s a different group of people, different group of Hamiltonians that are absolutely committed to fostering a sense of belonging and stopping hate from propagating in our city — those folks are under-resourced.”
Monday’s discussion followed an anti-hate rally in front of Hamilton city hall on Saturday, which was attended by more than 100 people, including Mayor Fred Eisenberger and a number of city councillors.
During that rally, which was organized to coincide with weekly gatherings of yellow vest and far-right protesters gathering in the forecourt, a school bus displaying anti-immigration slogans pulled up onto the sidewalk.
Hamilton police spokesperson Jackie Penman said officers negotiated with the bus driver to leave the area peacefully and said there were no charges laid against him.
One person was arrested at Saturday’s rally for breach of the peace and causing a disturbance.
“The individual had been cautioned earlier about his behavior,” said Penman in an email to Global News. “He was eventually arrested for attempting to assault a group of protesters. The individual resisted arrest and was subsequently charged with Resist Arrest.”
Graham Crawford, Hamilton’s 2018 Citizen of the Year and a member of the city’s LGBTQ2 community, was critical of how police responded at Saturday’s rally.
Speaking on Global News Radio 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly Show, Crawford said police should have recognized that the bus’s presence on the sidewalk was meant to intimidate the anti-hate protesters.
“You’ve got a guy in body armour with anti-foreigner posters on a school bus and he’s permitted to pull up on the sidewalk where people, residents of Hamilton, were standing with signs that talked about love and diversity,” said Crawford.
After police arrested the anti-hate protester, Crawford said he confronted officers about their approach but was dismissed.
“It was an abuse of power, in my opinion,” said Crawford. “Eight officers and then they leave the scene, and they leave the crowds standing there at a moment of tension. I don’t think that’s smart. And I want Chief Girt to tell us why that is part of the police strategy and training, because that doesn’t make sense to me.”
Ward 9 Councillor Brad Clark, who was among those in attendance at Saturday’s rally, said he was “diplomatically disconcerted” by what happened with the school bus.
“There were no charges laid and nothing was dealt with, and if someone had pulled a car up there, the police would have dealt with that in a different manner,” said Clark. “We have to remember that our primary goal here is safety of citizens.”
Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr also expressed concern about the bus driver being ticketed for parking on the sidewalk and directed staff to look into the matter.
When the committee receives the next report in October, Ward 1 Councillor Maureen Wilson said the city needs to have a discussion about “the elephant in the room”.
“Why are we seeing a rise in hate?” asked Wilson. “Why is hate feeling emboldened? Who is being subjected primarily to hate and what is the role of this city in having provided the grounds for which that hate has felt emboldened? And it requires a conversation about city-building.”
Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla argued that hate isn’t an isolated problem in Hamilton.
“I take exception to the fact that Hamilton is any different than anywhere else in the world. I think the problem is an international problem, it’s a national problem, it’s a provincial problem. And I think this branding of Hamilton being worse than others is very, very disingenuous.”
It will still be several months before the consultation process begins and staff will provide the committee with an update in October.
City manager Janette Smith said they recognize the public wants to see the city act quickly while also ensuring that policies are developed thoughtfully and carefully.
She added that they’re looking at what other cities have done to mitigate hate and have already consulted with other municipalities to see what strategies have resulted in success.
“We’ll continue to be searching those out because we’re kind of all feeling our way through this,” said Smith.
WATCH: (Aug. 1, 2019) Hamilton police looking for suspect who allegedly assaulted man in parking lot dispute
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