Hamilton

Mayor says sign posters outside his house don't represent LGBTQ Hamiltonians

Hamilton's mayor says he and his family woke up to "20 agitators" outside his home, swearing and planting signs saying the "Mayor doesn't care about Queer People."

'Harassment of my family, my neighbours, or anyone is crossing the line,' says Fred Eisenberger

Hamilton mayor Fred Eisenberger tweeted this photo showing people planting signs saying "Mayor doesn't care about Queer People" outside his house Friday. (Fred Eisenberger/Twitter)

Hamilton's mayor says he and his family woke up to "20 agitators" outside his home, swearing and planting signs saying "The mayor doesn't care about Queer People."

In a post on Twitter, Fred Eisenberger said some people in the crowd were also "banging on my door."

"This is absolutely unacceptable. Harassment of my family, my neighbours or anyone is crossing the line," he tweeted, adding police are investigating.

Police are aware of the incident and are in the early stages of an investigation, said Const. Jerome Stewart shortly after it happened. "This is obviously a very important situation."

The mayor shared photos on social media of his home near the Red Hill Valley Parkway. About 15 people crowded near the end of the driveway, with one masked man standing closer to the house.

The signs also demanded "Drop ALL charges against Pride defenders NOW!!!"

By 10:30 a.m., the protesters and the signs were gone. In an anonymous post on north-shore.info, local anarchists take credit for the incident.

In an interview, Eisenberger reiterated that he felt the action was unacceptable and feels it was just a small group of people involved who want to foster divisions.

Eisenberger differentiated between anarchists and Hamilton's "queer and trans community" Friday. Of LGBTQ Hamiltonians, he said, "in some respects, they're fully a victim in all of this."

They're victims, he said, because "they're now caught up in this turmoil in the sense that (they feel) the government, the city and myself are against them. There's no truth to that," he said. And "these agitators are trying to foment that."

"There is ongoing and seemingly increasing, in numbers of individuals — not a lot of them, just very few of them — that are looking to agitate all areas of our either civic institutions and/or national institutions. That's the level of hate and division that's happening here across the country. Nationalism, populism, call it whatever you like, anarchism, those are folks that are just looking to cause mayhem." 

If the sign bearers broke laws, Eisenberger said, he wants them prosecuted to "the full weight of the law."

Banging on the door 'like a sledgehammer'

Branko Bursac lives a few doors down on the same cul-de-sac as the mayor.

He was coming back from picking up coffee around 7 a.m. when he noticed six or seven cars heading toward Eisenberger's home.

"One by one they were coming with signs," he said. "They stopped in front of Fred's house and started putting in signs. Two guys went to the front door and side door and started to knock hard … like a sledgehammer."

Bursac said four of five of the people present were wearing masks and seemed to be led by a woman wearing a T-shirt with the words "Eat S--t" on the back. They yelled and made a racket using a saxophone and other instruments for about 10 minutes before giving another neighbour who had come outside the finger, then "running away," he added.

Three or four police cars showed up a short time later. Officers interviewed Bursac and the other neighbour and then picked up the signs.

Branko Bursac took this photo of protestor's outside the mayor's house yelling and playing instruments around 7 a.m. Friday. (Supplied by Branko Bursac)

"To me, that's really stupid," Bursac said of the protest. "They were so angry it was unbelievable. If they were going to do that they should go in front of city hall."

City manager Janette Smith emailed councillors and staff Friday morning to say there's been "some protest activity at city hall and at other city properties." The city is working with police, she said.

The email reminds staff to "always be aware of your surroundings."

Anarchist blog takes credit

The north-shore.info blog post says "It's been a month of utter buffoonery seeping out of city hall."

"It's well past time for the mayor to wake up. And so – very early this morning – we decided to help him with that. As people who frequently have to deal with cops banging on our doors and invading our spaces in the early morning hours, we wanted to share a small aspect of this experience with Fred."

LGBTQ issues have been a flash point in Hamilton in recent weeks, including a dispute over whether to fly the Pride flag.

On June 15, a Christian extremist group came to Gage Park to protest Pride, and clashed with a group of masked counter-protesters who set up a mobile barrier to hide their homophobic signs.

Police say several people received minor injuries after an altercation at the Hamilton Pride festival. (Imgur)

Pride Hamilton said police took too long to break it up. Eisenberger, who chairs the police board, called that "a false narrative" on Twitter.

After days of silence, the mayor then issued a statement on June 25 saying he wants to meet with Hamilton's queer community to hear its concerns. He also said he's planning to organize a broader meeting on hate and hate crimes to "develop a collaborative strategy to address racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and discrimination against indigenous and 2SLGBTQ communities in our city."

Eisenberger shut down a city council meeting Wednesday after protests from angry LGBTQ residents.

Four people, meanwhile, are facing charges for the Pride fracas. Two are believed to be among the masked counter-protesters, who were arrested for violating court orders. Police say a third, Cedar Hopperton, was also among the masked counter-protesters, although supporters insist otherwise. Hopperton was on probation after being sentenced last year on mischief charges related to an anarchist Locke Street vandalism spree.

One of the anti-Pride protesters, Christopher Vanderweide, has been charged with two counts of assault with a weapon.

The Tower, a Hamilton anarchist social space, declared Friday an "autonomous day of action" called "Drop All Charges Against Pride Defenders." It encouraged people to do "banner drops, postering, rallies, or any number of other more creative endeavours." 

On Friday afternoon, The Tower also posted a Facebook video of masked people banging on pots and playing instruments as others planted the signs in the mayor's yard. The faces of people who weren't already covered had been blurred out.

'It looks like an Americanization of the City of Hamilton'

People also directed their ire at Coun. Sam Merulla (Ward 4) during that meeting. Audience members booed when Merulla said hate groups are a "self-fulfilling prophecy" that happen when you "give oxygen" to them, and that residents and the media should just ignore them.

Merulla said police warned him around 7:30 a.m. that he could be targeted. That hasn't happened, although "there's also been some tweets that I should maybe be assassinated."

"There is nothing I said that should have inflamed the LGBTQ community," he said. "The intent was to stand by them, not against them. My focus was on extremism. We can't have people believe they can turn to vigilantism to protect anyone."

"The way this is headed, it looks like an Americanization of the City of Hamilton that I've never seen before. It's not going to end well for anyone. Extremism on both ends have to be taken out of the equation."

Many on social media supported the protest but others said going to his home was going too far.

Ward 1 Councillor Maureen Wilson called it "unacceptable" and "counter-productive."

In a pair of tweets Friday afternoon Cameron Kroetsch, an activist who also vice-chaired Pride Hamilton this year, said he was "not surprised" by the protest outside the Mayor's house.

"Our community has been traumatized, is in pain, and is angry," he wrote. "We all know why this is happening and we've been clear about what's needed to start a dialogue. We're waiting."

Despite the mayor's pledge to do better and meet with the LGBTQ community, Kroetsch added, "it's hard for me to focus on the Mayor's lived experience when he's made it so clear that he's not interested in hearing ours."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.