Photo by Cindy Cui / Photo Editor
cw: white supremacy, hate speech
Hamilton is the hate capital of Canada. Even if you’re not from Hamilton, as a McMaster University student, this is the place where you’ve chosen to pursue your education. This is where you are preparing for your future. This beautiful, vibrant city that is full of artists and music also has the highest rate of reported hate crimes in the country.
After the Hamilton Council updated a trespass bylaw in response to the hate seen at City Hall, Councillor Sam Merulla said that the counter-protestors have given a small group of right-wing extremists a platform and that the city’s focus on hate issues have “manufactured” this problem. If you’re reading this, councillor, how dare you? How dare you ignore the systemic hatred in our city?
Council passes updated trespass bylaw related to cracking down on hate activities at #Hamont city hall, etc. A feisty Coun. Sam Merulla suggests city's focus on hate issue is giving "six morons" a national platform. "We have manufactured a problem in this city."
— Matthew Van Dongen (@Mattatthespec) October 23, 2019
For months now, several hate groups, including the so-called Yellow Vests, have been protesting outside City Hall on Saturdays. This far-right hate group has co-opted the name of a French movement protesting rising fuel prices and calling for changes to economic policy and taxation. The Yellow Vests’ activity has attracted other far-right groups, such as the Soldiers of Odin and the Proud Boys.
These groups have been appearing more frequently and are much more aggressive towards the counter-protestors. When they first appeared they came in a large group, walking purposefully towards us and through us. I was with fellow counter-protestors that day, yet I felt so frightened that I started sobbing, and I couldn’t stop.
On October 6, the organizers of the Gandhi Peace Festival invited the Yellow Vests to attend the event. People associated with a group that carries signs such as “Make Canada Holy and Righteous Again” or “No Immigration, Legal or Illegal” were invited to take part in a festival that is supposed to celebrate peace and acceptance. They even spoke with the mayor. While I recognize that the invitation was intended to foster a sense of community, it did just the opposite. This invitation made it seem like the Yellow Vests were accepted by the community, giving them an opportunity to validate their harmful rhetoric and portray counter-protestors’ efforts as unreasonable and violent.
This invitation made it seem like the Yellow Vests were accepted by the community, giving them an opportunity to validate their harmful rhetoric and portray counter-protestors’ efforts as unreasonable and violent.
The Yellow Vest protests are not an isolated incident. This violence and hatred spreads through our city like a virus — but instead of addressing this hate, some city councillors have remained silent on the issue or in the case of Merulla, have blamed the people who are trying to right this wrong.
It hurts. It hurts to see these hate groups spewing their harmful rhetoric every week. But I am white, cisgender and middle-class, and it is my responsibility to stand up for the people who aren’t safe or comfortable being there. It is my privilege that I can stand in the City Hall forecourt on Saturday afternoons to counter-protest. But even with all that, I feel apprehensive. I am frightened. When the midday sun is shining down on me in the heart of the city where I have lived my whole life, I feel afraid. And that is unacceptable.
When the midday sun is shining down on me in the heart of the city where I have lived my whole life, I feel afraid. And that is unacceptable.
It hurts to see hundreds of people filling the streets for a climate strike, while only around 20 people appear regularly to protest against the Yellow Vests on weekends. Yes, striking for the climate is a vital cause and it fills me with joy to see revolutionary action on such a scale, but I can’t help but feel bitter. Where are those numbers every week outside of City Hall? Where are those numbers when counter-protestors are arrested?
This article is by no means blaming people for not attending the counter protests. It is not safe for everyone to attend and I know that. But the lack of knowledge about what’s happening in this city is not okay. Nothing will change if we don’t change. Please, my heart can’t take this anymore.
And to the counter-protesters: you have my wordless gratitude. Thank you for persevering. Thank you.