Hamilton

Hamilton city councillors reject requests from Paul Fromm, yellow vester

Hamilton city councillors have rejected two requests from people who wanted to present to them — one from a member of the local yellow vest group, and one from white nationalist Paul Fromm.

'The prime minister doesn't work here,' says Coun. Sam Merulla

Paul Fromm, a noted white nationalist who ran for mayor in Hamilton, is seen here at a yellow vest protest in front of city hall. (Hamilton Against Fascism/Facebook)

Hamilton city councillors have rejected two requests from people who wanted to present to them — one from a member of the local yellow vest group, and one from white nationalist Paul Fromm.

City council's general issues committee voted Wednesday morning not to let either speak to council. Fromm's request said he wanted to "address free speech concerns in light of council's interest in curtailing demonstrations in public places in the city."

Lisa Thompson's was to clarify that Justin Long, who's presented to councillors on behalf of the Hamilton yellow vests before, "does not speak for the group."

Fromm's request was rejected with little discussion. But councillors debated the Thompson request before rejecting it 14-1.

The requests put council once more in the centre of the city's ongoing struggles with dealing with hate groups, free speech and alt-right protests. Mayor Fred Eisenberger, some councillors and Hamilton police have all faced criticism for not doing enough to combat hate.

Fromm founded the Canadian Association for Free Expression, a non-profit that has intervened in several human rights cases across Canada. Those cases include websites encouraging homophobia and Holocaust denial. He has also made regular appearances on Stormfront Radio, which describes itself as being "pro-white news, opinion and inspiration."

Fromm ran for mayor last year, and 706 people voted for him.

The Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion sent a letter to council urging it to reject the requests Wednesday, saying doing so would be an important signal of its stance on the issues.

Lloyd Ferguson, Ward 12 (Ancaster) councillor, cast the sole dissenting vote on the Thompson vote, saying council has a duty to hear from residents. Terry Whitehead (Ward 14) voted against Thompson's request, but worried it was a "slippery slope."

"I'm concerned we're getting caught up in an ideology," he said.

About a half dozen yellow vest protesters stand across the road from city hall in July. The group typically demonstrates every Saturday morning. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Nrinder Nann (Ward 3, central lower city), who moved rejecting Thompson's request, said this is all about process. It's not the role of councillors to hear about a group's internal squabbles, she said. Brad Clark (Ward 9, upper Stoney Creek) agreed, saying the yellow vest group seems to be "in disarray." So did Maureen Wilson (Ward 1, west end).

"I don't think it's germane to this council to discuss the internal workings of an organization," Wilson said. "They can have that discussion themselves."

The yellow vest group has demonstrated in the city hall forecourt every Saturday for months. The movement started in Europe over rising fuel prices, but in North America, it's expanded to include the far right. The Saturday morning protests, says Mayor Fred Eisenberger, have had a "racist tone," and at a recent protest, someone drove a yellow school bus onto the sidewalk.

The city is putting policies in place it says are to deter the protests, including heightened surveillance and a new hire to manage the data. Residents have also started anti-hate counter protests. All this comes amid violence at a Pride festival in June, and a Statistics Canada report showing Hamilton has the highest rate of reported hate crime in Canada.

Thompson's request said she's a founding yellow vest member, and she wants to "bring clarity."

"I'd like to be a strong compassionate and respectful voice for the group, and hopefully we can come to an understanding and common ground of respect for all groups involved," she said.

In response to the decision Fromm told CBC News he "sought to remind (councillors) of their duty to uphold free speech ... There should be no restrictions on peaceful protests." He said he's "disappointed and saddened at the totalitarian tendency of council."

For his part, Sam Merulla (Ward 4, east end) said he's not even sure why yellow vest protests are happening in front of city hall at all. The group is upset with Justin Trudeau, he said.

"The prime minister doesn't work here," he said. "We do have a federal building around the corner. Maybe we could hire someone to escort them there because I'm getting a little tired of this nonsense."

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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