Skip to main content

City of Hamilton admits classifying anarchist sign as a ‘hate symbol’ was an overstep

Facing a flurry of backlash, the city of Hamilton has admitted it overstepped in classifying the anarchist circle-A as a “hate symbol.”

The controversy stems back to March, when a bylaw officer issued an order to the Tower, a local anarchist clubhouse in the downtown core, to remove an anarchist symbol from their front window.

The order followed a vandalism spree that took place on Locke Street South on March 3, during which a group of 30 or so masked individuals – self-proclaimed “ungovernables” – pelted rocks through the windows of local boutiques and restaurants, causing roughly $100,000 in damages. One person has been charged.

Story continues below advertisement

The Tower was targeted in retaliation - by what members of the clubhouse claim were alt-right groups - and when they covered up their broken windows, they spray-painted a big circle-A on the plywood.

After the order was issued in Mid-March to remove it, the city says the group complied within the requested time frame.

And while Mayor Fred Eisenberger told local media this week that he supported the designation of the circle-A as a hate symbol, the city now acknowledges it was an overstep.

“Stemming from the senseless acts of violence and vandalism in our city, my comments were a reaction that hate speech, and the acts of violence, have no place in the city of Hamilton,” Mr. Eisenberger said in a statement Thursday.

“Based on actions and initial statements provided by municipal staff, my earlier comments were based on the belief that city municipal bylaws had been applied appropriately. With additional information, it is clear the anarchy symbol is not a hate symbol and efforts are being undertaken to immediately update staff training.”

He also noted that staff will be sure to communicate with police in such cases in the future. In an e-mail statement Thursday, Hamilton Police clarified the service does not consider the anarchist circle-A to be a hate symbol.

City Councillor Matthew Green, who represents the downtown ward where the Tower is located, stressed that the original order was not a directive or motion from city council. He called it a case of “local government overreach” and a “complete misinterpretation of the law as it’s written.”

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Green said he hopes this leads to a more “definitive conversation around what actually constitutes a hate crime.”

Cara Zwibel, director of the fundamental freedoms program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said Thursday that while the city’s mistake was recognized “relatively quickly,” it is important to be vigilant to make sure governments and law enforcement aren’t overstepping and policing expressive activity.

“There is a tendency, I think, to look at symbols that may be critical of government or critical of law enforcement and see if they can fit into some sort of category as prohibited speech,“ she said.

“It’s something we always need to be mindful of and watchful of and make sure that, just because expression is critical or unpleasant, it’s not subject to censorship.”

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

If your comment doesn't appear immediately it has been sent to a member of our moderation team for review

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.