Hamilton

Mayor shuts down city council meeting after shouting from angry LGBTQ residents

Hate groups, says Coun. Sam Merulla, are "a self-fulfilling prophecy." Easy for you to say, shout LGBTQ audience members.

Hate groups, says Merulla, are 'a self-fulfilling prophecy.' Easy for you to say, shout LGBTQ audience members

Paying attention to hate groups, says Sam Merulla, makes them a "self-fulfilling prophecy." Others on council say comments like Merulla's detract from the real battle, which is a growing wave of hate group support in Hamilton. (Dan Taekema/CBC News)

A Hamilton city council meeting ground to a halt Wednesday when a councillor said a group of counter-protesters at a Pride festival "gave oxygen" to "six to 12 morons."

Sam Merulla, Ward 4 (east end) councillor, spoke against a group of Pride supporters in pink masks who blocked far-right extremists holding homophobic signs at a Gage Park celebration June 15

Online video shows shoving among multiple people, and there were several injuries. Video shows two anti-Pride protesters in particular throwing punches, and one hitting two counter-protesters in the face with a helmet. The alleged helmet wielder, Christopher Vanderweide of Kitchener, was arrested today on two counts of assault with a weapon.

Merulla said the masked counter-protesters, who held a large portable barrier in front of the extremist group, were part of the problem. "I've never seen a victim in a mask before," he said.

Merulla said the extremist group at Gage Park was "six to 12 morons." Such groups appeal to the disenfranchised, he said, and paying attention to them makes them "a self-fulfilling prophecy." He also said there are people who plan to run for election aggravating the situation, and people are "stirring the pot."

This upset some in the audience.

 

"You're stirring the pot," shouted someone.

"When people are seeking attention," Merulla said, "they will act like buddy behind me."

'It's funny to you, but it's violence to us'

"There's more than one of us," an audience member responded. "Shame on you."

"I'm speaking the truth," Merulla said, adding that "apparently the truth hurts these people." At several points, he appeared to snicker. 

"It's funny to you, but it's violence to us," someone shouted. Pink masks "are not the problem," another shouted. 

"Say something, Fred," someone shouted to Mayor Fred Eisenberger at one point. "You've been so f-cking silent. So silent."

In the end, Eisenberger read from the procedural bylaw and warned the audience they'd have to leave. "Let's not agitate, OK?" he told Merulla.

After another audience member shouted, Eisenberger stopped the meeting. City hall security guards lingered near a group of about five people, who left on their own.

'It's not acceptable to talk about both sides'

The outburst happened as council debated a motion by Coun. Brad Clark (Ward 9). At Clark's urging, the city will "gather evidence" of "inciting violence" and "spreading hatred to identifiable minority communities" so it can apply for a court injunction. Such an injunction would prevent far-right groups from gathering in front of city hall every week

A couple of councillors spoke against Merulla's comments.

"I'm frankly embarrassed by the direction of this discussion today," said John-Paul Danko of Ward 8.

"It's not acceptable to talk about two sides. There is only one side, and that is that hate has no place in Hamilton."

Nrinder Nann, Ward 3, said hate exists and "it's getting increasingly organized."

'Don't mix up arguments'

"It's important that we make it really clear about what the truth is here, and don't mix up arguments that don't stay true to the matter that we're dealing with today, and that is hate-based activity that incites violence."

The incident comes at a tense time between the city and many LGBTQ residents.

This month, city council's LGBTQ advisory committee asked the city not to raise the Pride flag, citing several issues. The city raised the flag anyway, but didn't hold the usual ceremony.

Then came the Pride fracas. Organizers said police responded too slowly to the violence. Police then arrested three people for what they called parole infractions and court order violations for being involved in the counter protest. In the case of the first arrest — that of Cedar Hopperton, 33 — supporters continue to insist Hopperton wasn't there. Hopperton was on parole after a conviction around the anarchist vandalism spree  on Locke Street last year, and has been in the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre since Saturday.

Eisenberger, meanwhile, has been criticized for his relative silence following the Pride violence. Eisenberger issued a statement Tuesday saying the city needs to do better, pledging to organize a meeting with Hamilton's queer community.

City council received several letters of concern about the Pride violence. The Hamilton and District Labour Council and a number of McMaster University faculty, staff and graduate students have also written to the mayor.

At Nann's urging, the city will also forward those letters to the Hamilton Police Services board.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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