A group in Hamilton says it plans to ask police, on Friday, to lay hate-crime charges against local businessman Cameron Bailey for displaying the Confederate flag over the door of his restaurant Hillbilly Heaven.
“[The Community Coalition Against Racism] regards the Confederate flag as a symbol of hatred of people of colour and as a glorification of the ideology of white supremacy, which should not be displayed in downtown Hamilton,” the group said in a statement.
“CCAR notes that the use of the Nazi swastika in graffiti is routinely logged as a hate crime by the Hamilton Police Service and asks that it treat the Confederate flag in the same way.”
The group wanted to let the public know they are taking the next step, CCAR chair Ken Stone said, adding they're hopeful police will lay charges.
"We definitely have grounds. The Confederate flag is a symbol of hatred and represents white supremacy," he said, adding he's seen police act quickly on similar matters in the past.
"One day a person spray-painted a big Nazi swastika on the playground at Inch Park. The police came, took photos, noted it as a hate crime in their books and within 30 minutes, city crews were there with black paint to paint it over."
He said he hoped similar results will happen with their complaint against Hillybilly Heaven.
Debbie McGreal-Dinning, a spokesperson for the Hamilton Police Services, said hate crime reports are handled in the same manner as any crimes reported to police.
"We take the information into consideration and if there is enough there to pursue an investigation we would do so," she said.
She could not speak to the Hillbilly Heaven case specifically as nothing has yet been reported, but McGreal-Dinning explained there are specific qualifications that need to be met for hate crimes in general.
"It has to be a criminal offense that is motivated by hate. If the information provided meets that threshold, then it is investigated and charges may be laid."
Bailey's sign sparked controversy even before his restaurant opened on March 11. It has attracted media coverage locally and nationally.
Situated on King Street East at Walnut, the downtown Hillbilly Heaven, Bailey's second location under the same name, has also attracted graffiti.
Bailey said the markings, as well as the public uproar surrounding his restaurant, strengthens his "resolve" to keep the sign above the door.
"I'm not going to let a bunch of media people, academics or hipsters intimidate me," he told CBC Hamilton on March 6.
"If the Supreme Court of Canada tells me to take it down, I'll take it down. But other than that, never."
Bailey also said "I have guys from the Tiger-Cats come in here and some of them are southern black guys.As soon as there's some TiCat players that say 'hey, take that down,' then I'll think about it.”
Hamilton Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young lives in North Carolina. On Wednesday he offered to give Bailey the state flag in exchange for taking down his Confederate flag. Bailey has not yet accepted the offer.
Hillbilly Heaven isn't the only Hamilton eatery that features the Confederate flag — the Dirty South food truck has the flag on the side of their truck. Some people in Hamilton have been wondering why the flag is an issue for one restaurant and not the other.
On Wednesday, Dirty South announced they would be removing the flag from the truck. Here is an excerpt from an email owner Brett Liersch sent to CBC Hamilton:
"We are making a few changes to the look of the truck. The truck was designed after the General Lee, it was never meant to be offensive or disrespectful to anyone. We had a few people concerned when we opened and had assured them that we were not promoting hate or racism in any way and have had no complaints since.
Now that Hillbilly Heaven has flown the flag as a way to gain attention … we find it necessary to replace some of our vinyl out of respect for the Hamilton community that may find it offensive and do not want to draw negative attention to local businesses that allow us to park on their property.
So to answer your question directly, yes the flag is coming down ... the food is not!"