City looks at how to ban yellow vests from 'a public space like no other'
Hamilton's city manager says she'll report back on the legalities of allowing some groups and not others
The city is looking into the legal implications of banning groups it doesn't want to see rallying in front of city hall — and in the meantime, it's working with police to make sure the area is "safe for people."
Hamilton city manager Janette Smith said Thursday that she's already investigating whether the city can legally ban groups like the yellow vests, which rally and carry signs in front of city hall every Saturday. But it'll take some time.
Smith will report back in July on whether the city has any existing policies it can enforce to crack down on the yellow vest protests. In September, she'll report back on the legality of allowing some groups to use the space and not others.
"We're taking this very seriously," Smith told councillors at a general issues committee meeting Thursday.
"Please reassure the public, it's not like we're doing nothing."
The comments come after growing community outcry over groups like the yellow vests using city property.
The yellow vest movement began in Europe in reaction to increasing gas prices. But the North American version of the movement has latched on to issues like immigration, and has been associated with far right groups. In Hamilton, known white supremacist Paul Fromm has been spotted at yellow vest events.
'It's not a perception'
The group has protested in front of city hall for months. Mayor Fred Eisenberger says people are starting to come from out of town to join them.
Then last Saturday, some yellow vest wearers appeared to join forces with religious protesters at a Pride festival in Gage Park, and several people were injured. Now a small group of Hamiltonians are planning a peaceful demonstration to counter the yellow vest group, and will bring noisemakers and banners to city hall at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
Nrinder Nann, Ward 3 councillor, said this is an urgent issue.
The longer the groups meet, the more emboldened they become, and "the threat of violence actually increases," she said. "It's not a perception issue. It's a reality."
Maureen Wilson, Ward 1 councillor, asked why the city couldn't just use a "zero tolerance for violence" policy in place for its recreation centres. Staff told her they need more time to examine that.
'A public space like no other'
"This is a clear and present danger to the residents of the city," Wilson said. City hall is "a public space like no other."
Staff said the yellow vest protests have mainly been on the sidewalk, which Wilson disputed.
"I have seen photographs of these vile individuals not on the sidewalk, but in the city's forecourt, by the planters."
The city has also taken heat for employing Marc Lemire, the former head of a white supremacy organization, in its IT department. Lemire is on leave as Smith investigates how he was hired, whether his employment was covered up and what information Lemire has accessed.
As for last Saturday, Pride Hamilton organizers have also criticized police for what they say was a slow response. Chief Eric Girt said this week that police would have responded differently if they'd been welcomed at the event.