Hamilton

'No more hate in the Hammer': Anti-hate demonstration meets yellow vest protest outside city hall

At least 50 people showed up for a peaceful anti-hatred demonstration outside Hamilton City Hall Saturday morning, separated from yellow vest protesters and Proud Boy members by a "safety zone" filled with police officers.

Anti-hate rally follows violence at Hamilton Pride event

Roseatta Long and Samantha Williams have been a couple for 25 years. They both believe that there's more hatred brewing in Hamilton lately. (Laura Howells/CBC)

At least 50 people showed up for a peaceful anti-hatred demonstration outside Hamilton City Hall Saturday morning, separated from yellow vest protesters and Proud Boy members by a "safety zone" filled with police officers.

The rally came after a violent confrontation at Hamilton's Pride festival last weekend, in which several people were injured. The confrontation at Gage Park included religious protesters bearing huge anti-LGBTQ signs. Investigators have suggested that people associated with the weekly yellow vest protests at city hall may have been involved with the incident.

"There's a groundswell of violence that's occurring in our city," said Geraldine McMullen, who attended the rally. "We need to work together to try and stop that."

People brandished signs saying "No hate in the Hammer" and "Get the Nazis out of #HamOnt," as honking cars drove by — some also supporting the yellow vest rally.

Samantha Williams and Roseatta Long said they feel like there's more hatred brewing in Hamilton lately.

Police estimate about 60-70 people in total showed up for the rallies on Saturday. The two demonstrations were separated by a police "safety zone," said Supt. Mike Worster. (Laura Howells/CBC)

The couple didn't go to Pride this year —  but after the violence last week, said they can't "[rest] on our laurels" in this political climate.

Yellow vest members have demonstrated on Saturday mornings outside Hamilton city hall for several months. Many have criticized the city for allowing the Saturday morning protests, which Mayor Fred Eisenberger says include a message of "division, and of a racist tone." The yellow vest movement started in Europe over rising fuel prices but has expanded in North American to include the far right. 

There was a heavy police presence at the rally, with more than a dozen officers and two police horses. But the rally remained peaceful, with a few people from the two sides having discussions as the numbers dwindled.

Sean Dowling, who brought his young children to the rally, to "stand up against hatred, bigotry and xenophobia." (Laura Howells/CBC)

'An attack on all of us'

The attack in Gage Park "was an attack on all of us," said Sean Dowling, who brought his young children to the rally, to "stand up against hatred, bigotry and xenophobia."

"If I'm not able to bring my children to the front steps of city hall on 10 a.m. on a Saturday, then we have bigger issues," he said (people were advised not to bring their children to today's demonstration).

Dowling said he's heard racist and homophobic slurs from the rallies outside city hall.

'People don't feel safe'

Hate "is allowed to fester now," said Karol Destefano, who attended as part of the "Free Mom Hugs" group.

"People don't feel safe walking around downtown Hamilton," said Destefano. "They don't feel safe walking by these protesters every week."

Police say some yellow vest protests have had upwards of 150 people in attendance. Yellow vest members on Saturday said they are a collection of individuals, but are united by an anti-government sentiment. 

Karol Destefano and Martha Christianson demonstrated at the rally on Saturday morning, after attending Pride on Saturday. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Arrest related to Pride

Earlier in the morning, Hamilton Police arrested local anarchist and LGBTQ resident Cedar Hopperton for parole violations in relation to the events at Pride.

Police said they expect more arrests to come.

Hopperton — who was found guilty for their role in the vandalism spree on Locke Street last year —  violated parole "for participating in a public demonstration where peace was disrupted," police said in a statement.

Bronwyn Frisen, who says she witnesses the violence at Pride, was angry to hear that the first arrest in the investigation was a member of the queer community.

"That sends a pretty solid message about who the police are prioritizing in handling this," said Frisen, who identifies as a member of the LGTBQ community. She said she saw LGTBQ people trying to defend themselves and protect each other during the incident in Gage Park.

One of the anti-hate demonstrators speaks with yellow vest members after the rally on Saturday. (CBC)

Rally on Saturday night

The arrest prompted a rally of roughly 100 people outside the downtown station Saturday evening, alleging police have been "targeting and harassing queers for fighting back against far-right violence," according to the event's Facebook page. 

A handful of people wearing yellow vests showed up on Saturday, along with other supporters, including several members of the Proud Boys, a far-right all-male group described as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC).

Justin Long, a regular yellow vest protester, said their members had "nothing to do" with the violence at Gage Park; members were just at the festival "just to observe." 

"We have absolutely no problem with the LGBTQ community or the pride festivals," said Long, who said he wanted to have a civil discussion and explain that to people in the counter-rally. 

Long said the Proud Boys were there for "security," and cited past violence.

Justin Long said he been protesting with the yellow vests in Hamilton since December. (Laura Howells/CBC)

McMullin said that allowing certain members to be associated with the yellow vest movement is a tacit agreement with their beliefs.

"By allowing them to have space ... and not calling them out is therefore accepting their opinion," she said.

Supt. Mike Worster said the crowd was smaller than anticipated. He said the "safety zone" between the demonstrations was more for police safety than anything. He said police were not holding the two groups apart.

"People were free to choose what side they wanted to go on," he said.

Organizers say they will continue to come out and demonstrate as long as the yellow vest members are there.

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