Hamilton city councillors approve increased surveillance to deter hate groups
Hamilton has moved a step closer to deterring hate groups protesting on city property by boosting surveillance of all demonstrations.
City council's general issues committee voted Monday to improve its security cameras, collect data from demonstrations and, when requested, give that data to human resources and Hamilton police. City staff are also working on a new trespassing bylaw, which council will vote on in October.
The goal is to deter unsavoury groups from using the city hall forecourt to demonstrate. Many city councillors say they're unhappy with people in yellow vests who congregate every Saturday morning. Photos show them joined by far-right groups like Wolves of Odin and the Canadian Nationalist Party.
Councillors approved hiring a security investigator for a two-year term. That person will ensure that information is collected and shared according to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), said Martin Dambeau, the city's head of security.
The vote was unanimous.
"We're being very clear here today that we're taking these issues of hate, violence and the potential to continue unabated very seriously," said Jason Farr, Ward 2 (downtown) councillor. "This draft is an important step. It should, I hope, bring some security and some confidence."
"What we want to control — we will control — and deter those haters who see Hamilton as a place to spew their visceral hatred."
Some Hamiltonians on social media have worried about giving the city greater powers to collect information and monitor protests. But councillors seemed less worried.
Nrinder Nann, Ward 3 (central lower city) councillor, asked Dambeau how council can be assured the information will be used for its intended purpose. Dambeau said any information has to be gathered according to FIPPA and municipal act regulations.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger pointed out that the plan doesn't actually involve adding new cameras, just improving the ones the city already has.
"This is not new," he said. Cameras are already "surveilling corners, parking lots. We're upping the quality so it'll be usable for any potential charges that may have to happen."
Dambeau said afterward that the city will share video surveillance and information with police, provided the investigating officer file a request that includes the officer's name, badge number and case number.
City staff are also drafting a "hate related activities on city properties" policy and procedure, which anyone filing for the right to assemble on city property will have to acknowledge they've read.
Justin Long, a Hamilton yellow vest protester, told councillors he blames anti-fascists and the media for misunderstanding his group. He also blamed "a few angry and distasteful online comments" made by people who say they're yellow vesters.
Yellow vest protests started in December as "a relaxed environment" where people brought young children and talked about things "over coffee."
Coun. Brad Clark asked Long if anyone with his group has "ever yelled disparaging comments at Muslims walking by." Long said no.
"I think there's an awful lot of people out there, including a few Muslims out there, who have experienced it," Clark said. "So with the greatest of respect, you're not policing your members."
"With all due respect," Long said, "I think they're lying."
City council still has to ratify the committee's decisions on Friday.