Civil liberties association looking into the Cedar Hopperton parole case
The CCLA says it's not sure how often cases like this happen since parole decisions aren't usually public
The case of a Hamilton anarchist who is behind bars after a fiery speech at city hall has attracted the attention of a civil liberties watchdog.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) is looking into the case of Cedar Hopperton, whose parole was revoked after a speech about Hamilton Pride festival violence. The board decision stated that Hopperton's comments presented an "undue risk" and it cited a "history of similar conduct."
Cara Zwibel, CCLA's director of the fundamental freedoms program, said Hopperton's right to freedom of expression was denied when the Ontario Parole Board revoked parole for inciting violence. She's not sure how common the case is, she said, because parole board decisions aren't usually public. That's part of what she's researching.
The context of Hopperton's speech, and the forum, is what makes it of interest from a freedom of expression perspective, she said.
"My sense is the speech was speaking in broader terms, and not about what we should do this instant," Zwibel said. "It was more about 'how do we as a community need to frame these issues?'"
Hopperton spoke in council chambers at a June 18 forum held by city council's LGBTQ advisory committee. Hopperton, who uses the pronoun they, told police to "get the f--k out." They also said they're "not part of any community that includes police."
Instead of relying on police for protection, Hopperton said, "let's figure out how to use measured force ourselves and figure out when it's appropriate to do so."
Hopperton was on parole after serving nine months in jail in connection with anarchist vandalism on Locke Street. Numerous businesses and vehicles were damaged in the spree, and Hopperton pleaded guilty to two mischief-related charges. The Crown called Hopperton "a ringleader."
The parole board decision cites that history as a reason for the denial.
"The applicant believed the meeting was an appropriate forum to express and exchange thoughts, opinions and feelings," said the 13-page decision. "However, when the applicant expresses their views in such a way as to allow anger and violence to become part of their discourse, this creates an undue risk to society in light of their history of similar conduct."
Zwibel said Hopperton's criminal history is relevant from a parole perspective, but so is the context of the speech. "Our view is that we would err on the side of not restricting someone's liberty as a result of something they said."
As for the Pride violence, that happened at Gage Park on June 15. A group of protesters crashed the festival with homophobic signs and a loud speaker. People counter-protested, and a group wearing pink masks blocked the protesters with a portable barrier. Violence ensued and several people were injured.
Police arrested Hopperton a week later for a violation police said was connected to Pride. Police initially said the meeting wasn't a factor, but rather that Hopperton counter-protested at Pride. Police later said the meeting was a factor.
The parole board concluded that Hopperton wasn't at Pride. Hopperton was with their parole sponsor all day, the decision says, and not at Gage Park.
In arriving at the decision, the board looked over affidavits from 13 people submitted by Hopperton's lawyer, Asaf Rashid, as well as statements submitted by Hamilton Police Service (HPS) officers who were at the community conversation.
The meeting, the decision said, "was uncomfortable at times," but "it was generally peaceable. The Pride event altercations were disturbing and tense, and many comments made at the meeting were critical of the city and the HPS, which added to the discomfort."
Nevertheless, "the board finds that the applicant's comments gave rise to a situation which presented undue risk to the community, thus constituting a breach of the condition to keep the peace and be of good behaviour."
Hopperton checked with a parole officer before attending the meeting, the decision says. Hopperton's sentence ends in late July.