Hamilton now says it gave 'improper' order to remove anarchy symbol

After widespread online backlash, Hamilton is backtracking on a bylaw order that put the anarchist symbol in the same "hate material" category as the swastika.

City is backtracking on its order that put the symbol in the same category as the swastika

The City of Hamilton issued a bylaw notice to The Tower for displaying the circle A anarchy symbol on boards covering windows that were smashed at its building at 281 Cannon St. E. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Hamilton is now saying it gave an "improper" order when it forced a local anarchist group to remove the circled A anarchy symbol from its headquarters and called it "hate material" similar to the swastika.

The change of heart comes two days after a CBC News report on the bylaw order — a move that prompted widespread backlash on social media.

"[Bylaw enforcement] realizes the order was improper in terms of exceeding the scope of its by-law which is intended primarily to address property damage and maintenance and not content of signage," city spokesperson Jen Recine said in an email Thursday.

Now, she said, the city is updating its staff training — and the mayor says that it's now clear to him that the anarchy symbol is not a hate symbol.

The order came in the wake of an incident in early March, when a masked mob that dubbed itself "The Ungovernables" caused $100,000 in damage during a vandalism spree on Locke Street.

Days later, The Tower — the city's local anarchist social centre at Cannon Street East near Victoria Avenue North — was also vandalized.

The building's front window was smashed, and afterward, The Tower covered it up with plywood that was painted with the circle A anarchy symbol.

A rioter paints an anarchy symbol on a Wells Fargo bank during a protest against former Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos in Berkeley, Calif., on Feb. 1, 2017.

City spokesperson Marie Fitzpatrick told CBC News that on March 16, the city started a bylaw investigation into the symbol being displayed on the wood covering the windows.

"The anarchist symbol is considered hate material by the City of Hamilton and Hamilton Police Service and as such, must be removed," Fitzpatrick said in an email earlier this week.

Recine walked that statement back Thursday. She said the officer was acting in accordance with his or her training at the time, but the order itself was improper.

The move comes after an expert in urban social justice issues told CBC News earlier this week that the city's stance seemed like a "constitutional lawsuit waiting to happen."

Hamilton police are still investigating after a group of masked protesters threw rocks at windows on Locke Street in March. (Ryan McGreal/Raise the Hammer)

"Efforts will be made immediately to update our staff training, and communication with the Hamilton Police Service will be necessary for that update with a focus on seeking police assistance or review over concern with matters potentially related to criminal activity," Recine said.

She did not immediately respond when asked if the city no longer considers the anarchy symbol to be a "hate symbol."

When asked about it earlier this week, Mayor Fred Eisenberger said he hadn't seen the image that the city ordered removed, but said he supported city staff in their original determination.

"Certainly the anarchists that have vocally kind of presented themselves have done things that have been inappropriate, so if you tie the two of them together, I would say it's a symbol of destruction and mayhem and causing a crisis in a particular area," he said.

"Is that hateful? I think it is."

Much like the city, however, the mayor walked back his comments on Thursday afternoon.

"Stemming from the senseless acts of violence and vandalism in our city, my comments were a reaction to that hate speech, and the acts of violence, [that] have no place in the city of Hamilton," he said in a statement.

"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."



Adam Carter


Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.