Far-right activity not taken seriously enough in Hamilton, sociologist says

As the city wrestles with recent violence at Pride and ongoing yellow vest rallies, a sociologist says Hamilton has had "very little" response to rising far-right activity in the city.

Right-wing extremism is happening everywhere but this expert says Hamilton's response is lacking

Tina Fetner is an associate professor of Sociology at McMaster University who specializes in right wing activism and LGTBQ politics. (Colin Côté-Paulette/CBC)

As the city wrestles with recent violence at Pride and ongoing yellow vest rallies, a sociologist says Hamilton has had "very little" response to far-right activity in the city.

Many places are seeing a rise in extreme right-wing movements, said Tina Fetner, a sociology professor at McMaster University who specializes in right wing activism and LGTBQ politics.

But she says Hamilton has had a particularly muted response.

"We're not addressing it as a serious issue," said Fetner, which makes it easier for opportunistic, often-online movements to grow.

"We have all kinds of right wing activity going on, and everyone seems to just shrug it off and not deal with it as a serious concern."

Meanwhile, some people are advocating for Hamilton city council and police to take concerns about hate groups seriously, Fetner said— but there's a "slowness" and "lack of enthusiasm" for addressing their issues.

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Hamilton's police and mayor have faced criticism for their response to the recent violence at Pride, involving far-right extremists holding homophobic signs. 

Violence at Hamilton Pride

4 years ago
Duration 0:19
Police have charged four people so far following physical confrontations at Hamilton Pride on June 15. (Video Courtesy: YouTube/Facts VS. Feelings)

Meanwhile, yellow vest protesters have been holding Saturday morning rallies for months outside city hall, and a white supremacist candidate ran for mayor in the last election, Fetner noted.

The city has also taken heat for employing Marc Lemire, the former head of a white supremacy organization, in its IT department (he is currently on leave during a city investigation).

Concerns 'not taken seriously'

Some residents have criticized police and city councillors in the weeks after Pride.

Pride organizers said police responded too slowly to the violence at Pride. Police have also been criticized for not moving more quickly to arrest people after the altercation.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger recently woke up to protesters on his lawn  with signs saying "The mayor doesn't care about Queer People."

Eisenberger broke days of silence after Pride with a statement saying the city needs to do better, pledging to organize a meeting with Hamilton's queer community.

The mayor briefly stopped a city council meeting Wednesday after angry residents shouted from the gallery when a councillor said counter-protesters at Pride "gave oxygen" to the far-right extremists.

Protestors outside the mayor's house yelling and playing instruments around 7 a.m. Friday. (Branko Bursac). (Supplied by Branko Bursac)

People are trying to have dialogue, said Fetner, but "Their concerns were not taken seriously."

"When you're written out of the agenda ... your only choices left are to shout."

There are signs city leaders are looking to make up for that lost time.

City staff have been tasked by council to see if there are ways it can shut down the hate protests and the mayor is moving forward with plans to engage with members of the city's LGBTQ community. On Friday he named Deirdre Pike and Cole Gately as two special advisors for a new dialogue.

A moment to make positive change

This could be a time to make positive changes and support LGTBQ residents, Fetner said.

Incorporating LGTBQ residents into governments and police boards is the first step to positive change, she said. There's a lack of diversity in Hamilton city council, she noted, similar to several Ontario cities.

Fetner's colleagues at McMaster's School of Labour Studies recently published a report on the experience of Hamilton's LGTBQ community.

While Canadians might think they've "solved the problems" of LGTBQ equality in Canada, community members still face several issues, Fetner said, like higher rates of violence and more negative heath outcomes.

"These social problems are not the kinds of things that you can just say, oh we're done with that," she said.

Fetner says local institutions like public health, police and city offices, "all need to take a look at what are they contributing to the climate for their LGTBQ community members."


With files from Colin Cote-Paulette