Ex­perts say Hamil­ton over­stepped on sign

National Post (National Edition) - - NEWS - Moses Mon­ter­roza

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.”

ERNEST DOROSZUK / POST­MEDIA NEWS FILES

The city of Hamil­ton’s re­moval of an an­ar­chist sym­bol, the cir­cle-a, may have vi­o­lated the Char­ter of Rights.

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