Hamilton looks at banning hate groups from using public parks

The catch, says the mayor, is defining what a hate group is. The city will consult with numerous groups to find out.

The catch, says the mayor, is defining what a hate group is

Speakers referenced a 2017 park clean up by the Sons of Odin while saying the city should implement a ban on hate groups using city parks and other facilities. City staff is reporting back on whether this is possible. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hamilton city officials are looking into banning hate groups from parks and public facilities — but first, they have to be sure they're properly defining what a hate group is.

City council's general issues committee ordered a staff report Wednesday about how to draw up such a ban. 

They'll consult with numerous ethnocultural, racial, Indigenous and LGBTQ groups, as well as police, parks and rec staff and the city's newly formed Anti-Racism Resource Centre.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger seconded the move by Coun. Tom Jackson of Ward 6, saying he agrees with the sentiment "completely."

But he wants to make sure the city has a solid definition of what constitutes a hate group, as opposed to just groups that disagree with each other. 

"I don't want to see hate groups in our community, let alone renting our facilities or parks," he said. "But we have to be careful in defining what a hate group is." In some cases, he said, it's subjective.

Ken Stone from the Community Coalition Against Racism told councillors a hate group is any group that targets protected groups under the Ontario Human Rights Code. That includes discrimination based on age, race, ethnic origin, disability, gender identity or expression and sexual orientation.

Evelyn Myrie, a local diversity advocate from the Afro Caribbean association, agreed there needs to be "a community conversation" before implementing a ban. The city has to make sure it's not infringing on people's freedom of expression, she said. 

It has to look at "how can we proceed to make a more fruitful and strategic move, so at the end of the day, everyone wins."

Seven speakers urged councillors to make the move Wednesday, including members of the Sikh, Muslim and Afro-Caribbean communities, as well as a rep from the McMaster Indigenous Student Community Alliance.

"If we allowed hate groups the space and opportunity to engage in hate speech, this places minority groups in a very dangerous position indeed," said Ray Fawaz, a Muslim of Lebanese origin.

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This move comes after far right groups such as Sons of Odin have done park clean ups and protests in Hamilton.

Last year, the Canadian Three Percenters group did security detail at city hall as the Canadian Combat Coalition rallied against federal anti-Islamophobia Motion 103. That inspired Coun. Matthew Green of Ward 3 to look at banning groups from hiring unlicensed security for events on public property.

Hamiltonians Against Fascism are planning what they call a counter-rally against an apparent plan from a collection of far right groups to march on Locke Street on March 25.

The march would come after masked vandals destroyed property on Locke Street. The Tower, a local anarchist social space, said on Facebook that it didn't commit the acts, but supports them.

Every councillor was in favour of Wednesday's motion, which city council has to ratify on March 28.

​The UN has designated today the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca