Experts say Hamilton overstepped on sign
Experts say the City of Hamilton overstepped its authority when on Tuesday, it ordered the removal of an anarchist symbol, the circle-a, from a local building.
The city told CBC the symbol was considered “hate material” similar to the swastika.
“To apply the label ‘hate speech’ to a symbol like this and to compare it to a swastika is to completely misunderstand hate-speech laws,” said Richard Moon, law professor at the University of Windsor.
Moon said that hate speech and hate propaganda fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
“The city is not the enforcer of the Criminal Code ban on hate speech,” he said. “Normally, the police would lay charges, there would be prosecution and the prosecution would only happen with the consent of the attorney-general.
“I think it’s a challenge or an attack on what is really called political speech,” continued Moon.
The building, dubbed “The Tower,” is a local anarchist social centre. What prompted the organization to board up their windows began in March — a group of approximately 30 individuals calling themselves “The Ungovernables” walked down a popular strip in the city setting off fireworks and breaking windows. The mob inflicted $100,000 in property damages.
Two days later, The Tower was vandalized by “far right goons,” according to a Facebook message posted by the organization’s Facebook page.
The Tower promptly boarded up its windows and spray painted the phrase “We are not in the least afraid of ruins, for we carry a new world here in our hearts.”
As well, it spray-painted the circle-a anarchy symbol.
City officials told CBC “the anarchist symbol is considered hate material by the City of Hamilton and Hamilton Police Services and as such, must be removed.”
In an email to the National Post, communications officer Jackie Penman said, “The Hamilton Police Service does not identify the anarchy symbol as hate material. We were not consulted prior to the removal of the symbol.”
Former Toronto police officer and security expert Ross Mclean says at the very least, the symbol falls under the category of extremist groups. According to the RCMP’S Terrorism and Violent Extremism Awareness Guide, anarchism is considered “left-wing extremism.”
“It’s extremist, but not terrorist. There’s a difference,” said Mclean. “A terrorist is a designated group. Extremist groups, though, are just there for awareness.”
The city issued a property standards order to remove the sign, though it did not specify under what legal grounds it could remove the sign.
“Whatever the scope of this law, if it is used to restrict a sign because of its message, then it may breech s. 2(b), the freedom of expression provision of the Charter,” said Moon
“The city’s justification for this interference with the group’s freedom of expression is that the anarchist symbol is hate speech. But that is plainly wrong.”
City officials have since apologized for their actions.
“The division realizes the order was improper in terms of exceeding the scope of its bylaw,” said city spokesperson Jen Recine in an email. “Efforts will be made to update our staff training, and communication with the Hamilton Police Service will be necessary for that update with a focus on seeking police assistance or review over concern with matters potentially related to criminal activity.”
The city of Hamilton’s removal of an anarchist symbol, the circle-a, may have violated the Charter of Rights.