Encampment protesters arrested by Hamilton police describe injuries, SIU investigating

Members of the Hamilton Encampment Support Network (HESN) and other advocates, who were arrested by police during protests last week, described their experience during a media conference Monday morning.

'We're being targeted for doing advocacy work,' says member of encampment group

Rowa Mohamed (right) spoke about her arrest at J.C. Beemer Park on Nov. 24 during a media conference held by the Hamilton Encampment Support Network (HESN) on Monday. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Members of the Hamilton Encampment Support Network (HESN) and other advocates, who were arrested by police during protests last week, described their experience during a media conference Monday morning.

Those facing charges allege they were left with bruises, scrapes, sprains and concussions, among other injuries, when they were taken into custody.

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which probes police-related incidents that result in serious injuries, is now investigating.

Videos and photos captured during the protests show officers tackling several members of the group outside the central police station on Friday and an officer pinning a woman to the ground with their knee at J.C. Beemer Park on Wednesday.

Rowa Mohamed identified herself on Monday as the person with the police officer kneeling on top of them.

She said she was yanked to the ground and her hijab pulled off "as the man put the full weight of his knee and his body onto my neck and my head."

Police previously said the officer was using a "shoulder pin" to gain control for an arrest, adding the tactic is taught at the Ontario Police College.

Mohamed disputed that, saying she saw stars while the officer was on top of her and her neck was still sore from where the knee had been placed.

"Don't let them say it was a shoulder pin," she said. "It never is."

Her partner, Jordan Grace, was also arrested that day.

"I was banged up, bruised and suffered a concussion," he said.

Hamilton police said it became aware of the allegations linked to the J.C. Beemer protest this morning and notified the SIU for further investigation.

Police said they couldn't provide any comment as the matter is with the SIU and before the courts.

A spokesperson for the SIU confirmed it had invoked its mandate.

The first two arrests followed a fire that burned two tents at the park, along with possessions inside of them.

Police said explosions caused by propane tanks and generators rocked the park and emergency workers pulled people from nearby tents to escape the flames.

Hydro poles were damaged in the fire and the city and police said the park was unsafe.

Merima Menzildzic, a volunteer with HESN, said members of the network arrived to help those whose tents were still standing and to protest them being removed from the encampment.

"We showed up to bring coats, food and shoes," she said on Monday.

"The city of Hamilton showed up with police officers."

HESN is calling on the city to stop evicting people living in encampments as winter draws near. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Menzildzic, described the arrests as "violent and brutal" and said something has to be done to house people as winter and cold weather arrives.

"The city has options, has empty buildings and spaces," she said.

Following the fire, city spokesperson Michelle Shantz said its goal is to "connect people in encampments with safer and more human housing options," and that staff had met with people living in the park to connect them with a place to stay.

But members of the network said all of the options that were offered were for temporary, not permanent, housing.

All who were arrested have been released

Sahra Soudi, an organizer with HESN, said she was dragged across the ground at J.C. Beemer and left with a sprained wrist.

Then, on Friday, while protesting outside of police headquarters, she said she was arrested.

Soudi was using crutches on Monday and said her ankle had been injured as she was taken into custody.

Five people were charged in connection with the protest at J.C. Beemer, three with both assaulting a police officer and obstructing police. The two others are charged with obstructing police and assaulting a police officer, respectively.

A sixth person was arrested outside the central police station on Friday. They're charged with assaulting a police officer.

Everyone facing charges has since been released.

Sahra Soudi, who was using crutches on Monday, described her arrest which happened outside Hamilton police headquarters on Nov. 26. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Police chief Frank Bergen spoke about the arrests during a Police Services Board meeting on Thursday, where he alleged the charges at J.C. Beemer were related to an officer being kicked and someone spitting in the face of another officer.

He released a video statement on Saturday saying the protest at J.C. Beemer "was not peaceful."

The arrests there happened after demonstrators broke through police tape that was wrapped around the area, according to the chief.

That "compromised the area established for the safety of workers cleaning the area, encampment residents, city staff and outreach workers," said Bergen.

GoFundMe launched for legal costs

Members of HESN did not answer questions from the media following their press conference, saying they would respond after speaking with their lawyers.

Mohamed said HESN was "terrified" people at the encampment were going to be left in the cold and were trying to ensure they had enough time to pack up their belongings.

"I believe we're being targeted for doing advocacy work, for doing harm reduction work, for doing care work," she said.

"You don't need all of these people to police the unhoused if you could just house them."

Police said officers are trained to use the "minimum force required." The service directed anyone with concerns about the arrests to contact the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, which oversees complaints about police in Ontario.

A GoFundMe campaign was created on Monday to cover legal costs for those arrested. It had raised more than $10,000 — over half of its goal — as of 2 p.m.