What happens when hate hits campus? McMaster security reports provide a glimpse

When a hate incident took place at McMaster University the one security camera in the area wasn't working. An LGBTQ advocate says the lack of a working camera and the incident itself is cause for concern.

LGBTQ advocate has questions about campus culture and security cameras

A sign with the words McMaster University on it
McMaster University has had 64 people consult an intake office representative on an issue related to discrimination related to sexual orientation and gender identity between 2017 and 2022. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains language some may find disturbing.

"Can I have some of your chips?"

It's a seemingly innocuous question on the surface, but security documents from McMaster University obtained by CBC Hamilton through a freedom-of-information request show that comment was made in the midst of a hate incident on campus — and offers a glimpse of what hate looks like there and how security responds.

The altercation took place shortly after midnight on Sept. 3, 2022, right at the start of the school year, according to the security report.

The victim, along with two witnesses, offered statements to security. It's unclear who reported the incident to security.

The report said a group of five males, which the report said were presumed McMaster students, were walking near the Arts Quad near the student centre building when one of them hurled a homophobic slur at another person nearby holding a bag of chips.

"Stop biting your nails f****t," one of the males said, per the report.

"Can I have some of your chips?" said another male in the group.

"F*** off," said the student, before someone in the group yelled the homophobic slur again.

A group of men walking by bike storage. McMaster censored the group so they wouldn't be identified.
McMaster security was able to get a visual of the group of men (who are censored by a black box in the image) who hurled a homophobic slur at a student, but a camera closer to where the incident occurred wasn't working. (McMaster University)

The student reportedly responded by telling the group to "check your prejudices because you were just in violation of national law."

The group of men also reportedly insulted a group of women who saw it all unfold.

The report states the student was given support and a safety plan, but when security tried to review footage of the incident, they came across an issue — the security camera wasn't working.

While other nearby cameras caught glimpses of the males, described as white, tall and slim with brown hair and dark clothes, security ultimately couldn't identify or track them down.

The security report states a number of factors contributed to that, including the broken camera, a limited description from the victim and witnesses, a large gathering of students and the group's ability to avoid cameras.

"It's not just about whether or not the incident was caught on security camera, it's that there are people there who feel like that's an OK thing to do," Rebecca Banky, chair of the city's LGBTQ advisory committee, told CBC Hamilton.

Culture change is needed at school: LGBTQ advocate

Banky said she has heard from people at McMaster who have come forward to her about hate incidents they experienced.

Data from the McMaster Security Services 2022 annual report shows there have been 40 criminal incidents for inciting hate at the university between 2017 and 2022.

An annual report from McMaster's equity and inclusion office published earlier this year states 64 people have consulted an intake office representative on an issue related to discrimination related to sexual orientation and gender identity between 2017 and 2022.

The report also states there have been 187 discrimination and harassment complaints between Sept. 1, 2017 and Aug. 31, 2022.

Simranjeet Singh, McMaster Students' Union president and chief executive officer, declined an interview but said hate has no place on campus.

"It's very disconcerting and saddening to hear that someone was the victim of homophobia," he said in an email.

"Perpetrators should be held accountable under the student code of rights and responsibilities."

McMaster says it reviews cameras weekly

McMaster University declined an interview for the story, but provided an email statement saying it is increasing education it provides campus-wide to "counter hate."

"We want people to report and encourage people to report any incidents," McMaster said.

Some steps include:

  • Increasing education through training, communication and education strategies, bolstering student resources.
  • Simplifying the complaint reporting process.
  • Improving student resources like hiring a senior advisor for equity, inclusion and anti-racism.
  • The launch of its Black Student Success Centre and the Indigenous Student Services office.

The university also said there's an audit process for its security cameras.

"Every CCTV camera is checked each month to ensure they are connected and working," read the statement.

"We also have a weekly process of reviewing any CCTV camera that reports as being offline for any reason from our network, which is carried out by our security IT members."

Banky said not fixing up the cameras can "support a culture that perpetuates hate or gives it an opportunity to flourish."

But, still, the bigger issue is campus culture.

"There shouldn't be a culture where people feel like they can go around and do that without repercussions," Banky said.


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.