Hamilton

Demonstrators camp outside city hall as council amends proposed protest rules

The list of rules may have been aimed at hate-related protests, but a spokesperson for demonstrators camped outside said they see it as "just one more example of the city and police hand in hand criminalizing dissent."

Mayor hopes to host 'hate summit,' says 'awful lot of hate' directed at city institutions

A security guard watches demonstrators camped outside Hamilton city hall on July 12, 2019. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Demonstrators have set up camp outside Hamilton city hall, with plans to stay the weekend.

Meanwhile, inside council chambers, councillors pared down a much-derided list of proposed rules meant to halt hate-related activities on city sites that would have banned protesters from swearing, being "boisterous" or even using crayons to mark up municipal property.

The list of rules may have been aimed at hate-related protests, but demonstrators representing a handful of different groups raised concerns about the list being too broad and limiting freedom of speech, describing the list as "criminalizing dissent."

Mike Wood from Hamilton ACORN, a tenant advocacy group that often holds rallies outside city hall, said the rules would have taken away people's right to peaceful assembly.

"Handing flyers out, using microphones, megaphones, really what's that going to hurt?" he asked. "They need to continue focusing on the hate part … and keep them away from city hall."

The list originally included things like banning the distribution of food or drinks, using sound amplifying equipment and "any activity that creates a nuisance" and even using chalk. 

An amended list was supplied to council Friday, striking those suggestions and others. The changes to the list were approved unanimously by council.

A revised list of protest rules was passed unanimously at council on Friday. (City of Hamilton)

Ward 3 Coun. Nrinder Nann, who seconded the motion, said finding balance between free speech and making sure city property isn't a "breeding ground for hate" is tricky.

She added some of the items on the original list could have been considered a "terrifying overreach" of the city's power and, in fact, be unconstitutional.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger also weighed in on the revised motion, saying the initial list was meant as a draft for community input, not a policy that was going to be enacted.

He added he hopes to host a "hate summit" in the fall and also condemned hate against the city's LGBTQ, Muslim, Jewish and other communities.

But, he noted, there has been an "awful lot of hate" directed at Hamilton's institutions as well.

Along with the list, the proposed hate prevention policy also includes upgrades to the city's security cameras, collecting data from demonstrations and, when requested, giving that data to human resources and Hamilton police.

The policy will now go out for public consultation, with an amendment that the city seek advice from the province's Information and Privacy Commissioner on its current and suggested protocol for video surveillance before seeking feedback from residents.

Lack of trust in city, police

Noise makers, music and chanting could be heard outside as councillors worked their way through the agenda.

Among the groups at city hall voicing various concerns was about 40 people who said they were setting up a 24/7 encampment to spark community conversations about a lack of trust between the city's LGBTQ community, the city and police following violence at the city's Pride Festival on June 15.

General works manager Dan McKinnon says there's no problem with people staying in the forecourt overnight, as long as they don't damage city property and keep others from enjoying it. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Dan McKinnon, general manager of public works for the city, said he couldn't remember any past attempts to camp out at city hall, but noted there's no problem with the demonstrators staying, so long as they don't block other people from using the forecourt.

"As long as it's all peaceful and there's no observations of damage to city property ... we would never get in the way of the peaceful enjoyment of city property."

Security was posted outside the council chambers during the meeting and another guard stood outside.

Unlike some of the demonstrations, the "After Pride" encampment, dubbed "Camp Chaos Gays," isn't really about the protest rules, though they do support people speaking out against them, explained spokesperson Trish Mills.

The demonstrators say they'll be staying in the forecourt all weekend to raise concerns about a lack of trust in police and council. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The campers are planning to use the city's original list as "almost a checklist" of things to do while protesting outside, she added.

The rules "really [do] absolutely nothing to address hate groups in the city and nothing to address reparations to LGBTQ folks," Mills said. "I think it's just them attempting to maintain control and criminalize folks who are making a little bit of a fuss."

That said, the true reason for the encampment is to discuss issues with council and police, said Mills. The demonstrators will be hosting workshops, debriefs and a community conversation about what's been going on in the city.

"We're here for other reasons which involve city council having closed door meetings, not trusting city council, the police to keep us safe or do what's in our best interest."

with files from Samantha Craggs

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