Update from Hamilton, Ontario on the decision by the parole board to keep Cedar locked up over the summer, in the face of massive community outrage.
After waiting close to five days, we finally got news on the outcome of Cedar’s parole hearing. At about 4:56pm Monday, July 8th, after days of deliberation, we got the news that the revocation their parole stands. After submitting over a dozen affidavits to the parole board; after hundreds of community members spoke out and took action against the criminalization of pride defenders; after a day of solidarity that resulted in over fifty actions taking place across several continents in support of queers fighting back, the parole board nonetheless decided to keep Cedar in prison for the rest of the summer.
The parole board’s findings, though heartbreaking, are not surprising to those of us who are experienced in dealing with the legal system. It may not be surprising, but it is something to pay attention to and learn from. Given the outcome, it is crucial to understand the general circumstances, as well as the particular forces that created this situation. Knowing the rationale behind Cedar’s arrest and their subsequent incarceration tells us much about our current moment and provides many warnings to consider as we continue on in Hamilton.
One of the key questions that the parole board considered was whether or not a speech given by Cedar could be considered incitement and thus a breach of their parole. Contrary to the many statements made by the Hamilton Police that Cedar was arrested due to their alleged presence at Pride, the police’s own internal documents indicate that they were arrested in large part for a different incident. Police lie. They regularly abuse their power, and cannot be trusted in any way, shape, or form to address the wave of hate that has been sweeping through the city. On the Monday following Pride, an open meeting was called at City Hall to bring together Hamilton’s queer, trans, and non-binary community. The meeting was supposed to be a safe space – a place for queers to have an opportunity to voice their thoughts, feelings, and concerns following the weekend’s attack. Unfortunately, this meeting ended up being extremely unsafe. During the event, Cedar gave a fiery speech criticizing the police and calling on queers to defend themselves. The speech also directly referenced and called out the uniformed police officers who were present. All of this is pretty well known. However, there is more to the story and this more is incredibly relevant to any discussion of the city’s proposed “hate incident policy and procedure”.
The cops who were visible in uniform at the meeting, were NOT the only cops present in the room. There was at least one other officer in attendance, but he was undercover in plain clothes. As if this isn’t enough of a violation, the officer in question belongs to a very notable division of HPS – the Hate Crime and Extremism Unit. This means that said division isn’t exclusively (and arguably isn’t prioritizing) investigating the violent far-right. Rather, they are coming for us. Only days after Pride participants were attacked by hate groups, a member of the police unit specifically responsible for dealing with hate-based activities came to a meeting for the queer community to investigate the queer community. Let that sink in. This officer creepily surveilled the meeting and all of those present – he observed and took detailed notes that documented names of people who were there, specific things that they said, and who knows what else. These notes were then used as a weapon and became the basis upon which HPS built a case against Cedar. Having police at the meeting did not lead to more safety for queers, rather it led to more violence. To be clear, their presence put a trans person in jail; it led to a member of our community being put in a cage and segregated.
Against this backdrop, the recent proposal coming from City Hall for addressing “hate-related activities” is nothing less than horrifying. Just when you think that the city’s response to the fallout from Pride couldn’t possibly get any worse, it does in fact get worse. In case you missed it, last Friday it was announced that city councillors will soon vote on a new “Hate Incident Prevention Policy” aimed at addressing the issue of hate-based individuals, groups, and incidents in Hamilton. The draft policy entails provisions such as installing more CCTV cameras at City Hall and in other public places; increasing the “general surveillance capacity” of the city more broadly; procuring more tools for police to deal with protesters and demonstrations; and the hiring of a special security investigator “tasked with investigating and documenting hate related activities on city owned property”. In sum, the city wants more surveillance, more police involvement, and more files documenting people’s activities and personal information. All of this is incredibly concerning and we should be worried.
For starters, the most obvious issue is that this policy will not be used exclusively to target the far-right. It is almost guaranteed to target (and perhaps even focus on) queers, anti-fascists, people of colour, and other left activists. There is a long history of such policies being used against those deemed to be political radicals, and it has already been demonstrated that Hamilton Police Services can and will use the guise of “fighting hate” to criminalize our communities. We will be subjected to more surveillance, we will face more police harassment and violence, and we will have more of our lives intrusively documented. This is enraging. To use hate-related laws and policies to police movements for equality and liberation for all is offensive, and to equate anti-fascism with fascism (just two extreme ideologies) is categorically wrong. While the “both sides” argument has been popular these past weeks, it is important to loudly and publicly remind the city that these two sides are wildly different.
Next, there is the issue of how hate/hate symbols/hate activity is defined. The definitions used by city council in the past have been questionable, but also illustrative of underlying political sympathies. Throughout the course of last year, swastikas and other white supremacist symbols appeared with increasing frequency in public spaces. However, these hate symbols were paid little attention and the city’s politicians have instead focused their energy elsewhere – notably debating the circle A and arguing for the anarchist symbol to be classified a hate symbol. This gives a pretty good indication about where City Hall’s priorities lie.
There’s also the issue of how specific groups come to be recognized as victims and/or potential victims of hate. In other words, which groups of people or what kinds of groups of people are understood to be at risk for hate-based targeting. For example, could a feminist event on city property be accused of perpetuating hatred against men? Many in the men’s rights movement classify feminism as an ideology of hate and consider men, as a group, to be a target of hate. Moving to a more concrete example, let’s look at the police. Hamilton Police Services have routinely claimed that police themselves are a major at-risk group for hate-targeting and are frequently the victims of hate crimes. So, if a group organizes an anti-police demonstration, could they be accused of engaging in hate activity? Would queer demonstrations like those that have been organized in the aftermath of pride, be classified as inciting hate if they were to happen again?
And finally, there is the issue of information security and associated risk. Creating databases and other records at City Hall that include detailed information on people’s activities, alongside their personal information presents a very real threat to those people. What if those records were to fall into the hands of fascists or fascist sympathizers? One of the most famous white supremacists in Canada, Paul Fromm, ran for mayor of Hamilton during the last election. The City of Hamilton currently employs known neo-nazi, Marc Lemire, and in the IT department of all places! There are a million ways that this could go wrong, and if information such as people’s home addresses and places of work are acquired by members of the far-right, people will be placed in danger – they will likely face harassment and potentially violence.
All those who have joined the chorus of outrage in the wake of the attack on this year’s Pride and the subsequent mishandling of the situation by City Hall and the Hamilton Police Services should refuse to be pacified. Promises of more surveillance and repression from the very same people who have long refused to keep queers, trans and non-binary folks safe, and criminalized those who stepped up to do so is absolutely against our collective interests. And all those who have rightly spoken up against Cedar’s politically motivated arrest should take a moment to heed the actual words that got them thrown back in jail:
“If people say well we need cops there so they can de-escalate… it’s like how about we build de-escalation skills collectively? […] If we want the police there to use measured force in order to deal with situations, let’s figure out how to use measured force ourselves and decide when and how it’s appropriate to do so. I think building up strength to act, the strength needed to be violent if necessary is a necessary precondition for your choice to be peaceful to be meaningful, otherwise you’re just powerless.”
To those who know us, it will not be surprising when we continue to organize and mobilize for those who are facing charges from Pride, and for those amplifying trans, non-binary and queer voices throughout this city. We are under attack. We will defend ourselves. We will not let anyone criminalize our community for it. We will be relentless and we will keep fighting back. Until our friend is free. Until our voices are heard. Until we are safe.