We can and must do everything in our power to speak up for love and inclusion, and intervene whenever possible to protect targets of hate.
By Nicole Smith
Published August 12, 2019
By the end of the August 1 No Hate in the Hammer campaign launch, I was filled with energy and inspiration. There was overwhelming support for the re-opening of the Hamilton Anti-Racism Resource Centre as well as a host very specific and concrete recommendations to counter hate.
I was intrigued by the way people like Rabbi Hillel Lavery-Yisraeli of Beth Jacob Synagogue began by sharing personal experiences with racism but then focused on addressing others' issues (in Rabbi Hillel's case, he championed the rights and freedoms of women worldwide).
I eagerly stepped up to become involved as a community leader for this initiative, and look forward to hearing from them soon about next actions. There will also be a follow up meeting open to everyone on September 6 and the annual Gandhi peace conference October 4 and 5 will be speaking to the same themes and issues that the No Hate in the Hammer initiative is addressing.
At the same time, rallying every Saturday (except my weeks out of town), I see clearly the dark side of intolerance that wears down the spirits of the most positive, not to mention those already in the depths of despair. These alt-right proponents say the most astonishingly hateful things (in more offensive terms I will not repeat here). They call on the UK to free jailed fascists or carry signs that appear simply misguided about things like carbon pricing](https://www.chatelaine.com/living/politics/federal-carbon-tax-canada/).
In other words, they are skilled at dog-whistle politics.
An August 2 article in the Spectator explains why banning hateful protests outright may not be possible and provides helpful background information about what things are considered hate crimes (spoiler: some might find it surprising how high the threshold is before free speech becomes hate speech according to the Canada Criminal Code).
It mentions that alt-right ralliers "often seem to know how to 'walk the line' of legal behaviour" (according to Detective Corrigan of Hamilton Hate Crimes). Finally, it outlines approaches which might be helpful to remediate the situation.
Here are some reflections on strategies from the article and my own experience:
The August 2 article pointed out that when there are many more people counter-protesting and only a few alt-right people in attendance, the message clearly goes out that hateful messages are weak and largely unsupported by the community. A bright example of this was the Hamilton For Who Rally on July 13 where hundreds of Hamiltonians celebrated love and inclusion while a tiny knot of alt-right supporters huddled miserably on the other side of Main Street watched closely by police. My understanding is that there may be another such event sponsored by the Labour Council and Pride Hamilton.
While people still rally weekly at City Hall and the numbers in the counter-protest are still higher than those with the alt-right, the counter-rally could really use more supporters to send the message home every week to the alt-right that hatred is not tolerated in Hamilton.
The City Council is looking into upgrading surveillance outside City Hall to the end of establishing a court injunction against hate groups. The idea of more surveillance is not a comfortable one to some Hamiltonians. Also, Evan Balgord of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network points out the City would likely lose a Charter challenge if it went down that route.
I am also concerned that this could simply feed into the tactical approach of the alt-right and their martyrdom complex, and that they could seek to use it to fuel more outrage.
Hugh Tye, executive director of the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, states, "For some people, this (HARC) was the only place they felt safe reporting discrimination or harassment. Without that body, how do you reliably track incidents of hatred or act on them?" It was evident at the launch of No Hate in the Hammer that there was fervent community support for HARC to be up and running again as soon as possible.
Reporting of discrimination and harassment is essential but it is not easy for everyone to go to the police to do this, for a wide range of reasons. Having a safe place to report in person as well as establishing ready access online for people to share their experiences would be a real game-changer for Hamilton.
On July 20, shortly after arriving at the weekly counter-protest, I perceived that one of the alt-right ralliers was trying to instigate a physical fight with the father of two small children. When I stepped between them to protect the children, he had the temerity to suggest that I 'babysit' the children while he fought their father.
I quickly decided the best course of action was to engage him in a lengthy dialogue away from the family and hopefully distract him so he would not return to harass them. It was successful. While this may sound like an approach high in risk, a group of police were standing about 10 metres away observing us closely.
Can we get to the point where there is literally no hate in our city? Of course not. There will always be people of the alt-right persuasion, especially when their hateful approach is spurred on daily by the megaphones of political leaders like the current US President. However, we can and must do everything in our power to speak up for love and inclusion, and intervene whenever possible to protect targets of hate.
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