Ontario, Canada – An anarchist group in Hamilton, a city in the Canadian province of Ontario, has been ordered by officials to remove an anarchy symbol from its headquarters. The officials have declared that the symbol is “hate material similar to the swastika” despite police distancing themselves from the city’s position.
“The anarchist symbol is considered hate material by the City of Hamilton and Hamilton Police Services and as such, must be removed,” city spokesperson Marie Fitzpatrick wrote in an email to CBC News.
However, despite the claim by city officials that the anarchy symbol represents “hate material,” local police disputed that label. The symbol “does not meet the threshold of a hate crime,” Const. Jerome Stewart of the Hamilton police said according to CBC News.
“To the best of our knowledge, it is classified as an extreme left sign,” Stewart further stated. “So I don’t know where the direction came that Hamilton police have identified it as a hate crime sign, because as per our hate crime co-ordinator, that is not the case.”
According to a CBC News report, the mandate to remove the symbol from The Tower, an anarchist meeting area, was initiated after the group’s headquarters were vandalized:
The issue arose back in early March, after a masked mob that dubbed itself “The Ungovernables” caused $100,000 in damage during a vandalism spree on Locke Street.
Days later, The Tower — the city’s local anarchist social centre at Cannon Street East near Victoria Avenue North — was also vandalized.
The building’s front window was smashed, and afterward, The Tower covered it up with plywood that was painted with the circle A anarchy symbol.
City spokesperson Marie Fitzpatrick told CBC News that on March 16, the city started a bylaw investigation into the symbol being displayed on the wood covering the windows.
The city then issued a property standards order to remove it. Fitzpatrick said the building’s tenant confirmed they got the order, which was “complied with” on March 26.
Margaret Kohn, a political science professor and urban social justice specialist at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus, described the city’s move a “very controversial interpretation of hate speech.”
“This seems like a constitutional lawsuit waiting to happen,” she noted. Kohn explained that for a symbol to be considered hate speech, it has to target an identifiable group. “That seems to not be the case with the anarchist symbol,” she said.
Princewill Ogban, the head of an anti-racism center in Hamilton, told CBC News that “most anarchy groups in the past have been seen as anti-racist or anti-hate” and added that “they are pro-people and anti-government.”
In spite of the city potentially becoming vulnerable to lawsuits, Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger on Wednesday defended the order according to a report from the Hamilton Spectator.
“Certainly the anarchists that have locally presented themselves have done things that would be considered to be inappropriate, so if you tie the two of them together, I would say that’s a symbol of destruction and mayhem and causing a crisis to a particular area. Is that hateful? I think it is,” Eisenberger said.
Editor’s note, Tuesday, May 22nd, 2:21 p.m.: Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger clarified his original comment to the Hamilton Spectator and provided an updated statement which reads:
Hamilton’s Municipal Law Enforcement Division issued the order in March 2018 to have the graffiti removed from the outside of a building on Cannon Street E. The officer who issued the order was acting in accordance with their training. The order was directed at removal of a symbol painted on the exterior and was complied with in the requested timeframe. After reviewing the order, Municipal Law Enforcement has determined the order was improper in terms of exceeding the scope of its by-law, which is intended primarily to address property damage and maintenance and not content of signage.
Stemming from the senseless acts of violence and vandalism in our City, my comments were a reaction that hate speech, and the acts of violence, have no place in the City of Hamilton. Based on actions and initial statements provided by municipal staff, my earlier comments were based on the belief that City Municipal By-Laws had been applied appropriately. With additional information, it is clear the anarchy symbol is not a hate symbol and efforts are being undertaken to immediately update staff training. Further communication with Hamilton Police Service will also be necessary, in instances where concerns related to potential criminal activity are identified to ensure by-laws are applied properly. Municipal Law Enforcement is committed to ensuring that staff are appropriately trained, and by-laws applied fairly.