Special Report: Extremism

'We Have Reason to Believe'

While Hamilton Police continue to make an example of anti-fascist demonstrators, the crisis of escalating white supremacism is on our doorstep and things aren't getting better.

By Cameron Kroetsch
Published August 15, 2019

The City of Hamilton is facing a crisis. No, it's not unique to our city alone but, yes, how our police and leaders are responding to it is setting us apart.

This past weekend, for me, was a brand new low point in that response. In short, the police and our civic leaders failed us again. Their actions have put everyone in danger and the City needs to get a handle on it.

For those of you who have been wondering where I'm coming from, check out some information I shared in an op-ed I wrote for the CBC or the one that more recently appeared in The Hamilton Spectator. I direct you to those both because I'm not intending to recycle that content here but also because a lot of what I said in those two pieces underpins what I'm about to say in this one.

Our public spaces are becoming too dangerous to use.

People who use public spaces are being discouraged from using those spaces because violence and hatred are being permitted in them and because intimidation tactics and harassment are being employed to control those who peacefully stand up to that violence and hatred.

Multi-Tonne Weapon

This past Saturday at City Hall made that clearer than ever.

I stood on the City Hall forecourt as a man dressed in military fatigues, someone known to get very frustrated and angry, drove a full-sized yellow school bus up onto the sidewalk at peaceful protestors.

There's no other way to describe that, by the way. It wasn't a gentle or benign act. It was an attempted assault.

When I saw it, the first thing I assumed was that a tow truck had been called and that police had detained, if not arrested, the person driving this multi-tonne weapon. Nope, not even close. As I approached the bus, and the officers surrounding it, I discovered that they were going to spend the next 30+ minutes "talking to the driver" in an effort to deescalate the situation.

Police calmly negotiating with the 'hate bus' driver (Image Credit: Cameron Kroetsch)
Police calmly negotiating with the 'hate bus' driver (Image Credit: Cameron Kroetsch)

On the face of it, peaceful deescalation of a violent situation is a good idea. I'm not opposed to police trying to do that. But the outcome of that deescalation can't be to let the person take their weapon around to the back of the building and then come back out to continue to menace people by joining their white supremacist friends.

That is not the way to send a message to hateful and violent protestors who continue to threaten to start a version of their own martial law to "detain" anyone that gets in their way. Yes, the bus driver actually said this in a public video. He is literally saying that if members of the public get in his way, he will take it upon himself to remove them from the situation.

How much scarier does it have to get? An angry bus-wielding white supremacist is bowling up on City property with the intent of causing harm or, in the least, detaining you if you get in his way.

Making an Example

For me, that was a clear and easy moment for police to intervene and send a message. They, instead, decided to wait a couple of hours to make an example of someone else. What was that example? The arrest of a peaceful protestor who was dancing around the crowd in defiance of the hateful white supremacists who were threatening his literal existence.

Police arresting anti-fascist counter-protestor (Image Credit: Graham Crawford)
Police arresting anti-fascist counter-protestor (Image Credit: Graham Crawford)

And, not only did they arrest this person, who describes themselves as a young skinny gay hippie, but eight officers swarmed him, threw him to the ground, and then held him in a police car for upwards of 30 minutes with no ventilation, no air conditioning, and no water on a scorching, humid August day.

They did what most of us wouldn't do to our dogs, to a person who was peacefully protesting against hate at City Hall.

Not only is this a complete violation of his human rights, but it's also a huge stroke of luck for Hamilton Police Services. What if he had experienced an immediate, severe, or life-threatening reaction to this confinement? Many people have died in similar conditions and there's no excuse for what the police did.

An OIPRD complaint isn't enough for the torture that was inflicted on someone who was arrested, according to police, for a "breach of the peace and causing a disturbance" while "attempting to assault a group of protestors".

Let's think that through for a second: a man drives a bus at a crowd of people and is "spoken to" for 30 minutes but a person who is dancing joyfully is corralled, arrested, thrown on the ground, and then tossed in a hot police cruiser.

I don't know about you, but I'm used to the police refrain of "we have reason to believe" as an excuse for them to search, seize, and detain. Why didn't that standard line of thought come to mind when that bus drove up onto the sidewalk? It did for me, and for everyone else I spoke to. Why, instead, was the driver given the benefit of the doubt?

Affront to Masculinity, Authority, Whiteness

My reading of it is that we're dealing with the equivalent of a 1980s movie where rival high schools are competing to win the local football championship and that the singular focus of everyone involved in the situation is "winning at all costs".

In this scenario, the police are trying to intimidate the other team and rattle them before the two rivals meet on the field for the big game next week. The police are in a furious rage, egging the windows of the rival school, because their mascot was stolen over the weekend.

Just like in those classic jocular movies, the root of this frustration comes from an affront to masculinity, authority and whiteness. A "we'll show them" attitude has taken over the control centre of the hive mind and the police are seeing red where there's only peaceful, happy pink.

In fact, the police were so enraged and singularly focused on punishing a single anti-hate protestor that they completely abandoned the City Hall forecourt and left peaceful citizens to fend for themselves. It's clear what their focus was and who they were there to protect.

And in case there's any doubt in your mind about who police were protecting, here are the words of the bus driver himself from a video he recorded and posted shortly after driving up onto the forecourt:

Next time I come back ... I'd like to show up early and have like other Yellow Vesters. I'll do the same thing. I'll park my bus on the sidewalk. Because they got the cops to push me off, but if we're here early, you know, and we're already set up. So, I want to get here early, set it all up with a bunch of Yellow Vests, so that antifa can't, so that when the cops show up, everything's set up and it's like, 'Sorry.'

My advice to this City is to fire Chief of Police Eric Girt and hire someone to replace him who can think beyond the short fuse of their temper and lead the Hamilton Police Service down a different path. That's the leadership we need at bare minimum.

Someone must be held responsible for what's been allowed to take place with policing in this City. Everything from carding to the unprotected attacks on Pride to the targeting of peaceful protestors must be strongly addressed: no more equivocations, explanations about operational limitations, or arrests of protestors.

The crisis is on our doorstep, Hamilton, and things aren't getting better. No amount of calling this out as an "international problem" is going to solve it.

The White Supremacists are Winning

What has been the effect of all of this? Parents are unsure if they can bring their children to City Hall on the weekend. Many allies and activists are turning away from protests in public spaces for fear of their safety or for fear that they will be arrested. The white supremacists are winning. And the people in our Council Chambers are making things worse.

Councillors Sam Merulla and Esther Pauls are drawing on their own personal experiences in an attempt to dismiss what's happening in Hamilton. As self-identified Italian-Canadians, they're citing the slurs, slings, and arrows they endured as a sort of character-building exercise.

Their suggestion is that everyone just needs to get over it already. We need to just "walk it off". Their comparisons, rather than coming from a place of compassion and understanding, are a viciously subtle scolding of every single person who is being targeted by white supremacy.

As much as I hate what sounds like alarmist rhetoric, I really can't understand this in any other way. This is an escalating situation that is being treated as if it's just another day down at the Hall.

And the people in positions of power are too used to viewing all opposition to them as easy to dismiss because it's coming from "those people who just hate our institutions". They're quick to label me, and other people who ran against entrenched politicians, as doing this for "obvious political gain".

But what do they say to the hundreds of other people who have shown up to rallies? Are they all in it for that same political gain? What about the people who supported the Mayor's 2010 and 2014 municipal campaigns, who worked on them and helped to get him elected, who donated to him, and who have been speaking out about this loudly?

When your cheerleaders have put down their pom-poms to pick up a megaphone, and you can't recognize how serious it is, you're no longer in a position to lead.

Cameron Kroetsch moved to Hamilton in 2014. He's a labour relations professional, sometimes writer, and a passionate non-profit sector volunteer who cares about democracy in government and community advocacy. He lives in Ward 2 with his partner Derek.

15 Comments

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted August 15, 2019 at 10:47:38

So 30 minutes was too long for the cops to handle the situation with the bus driver? What, were you waiting for them to throw him out the door and shit-kick him on the pavement? They handled it professionally as they are trained to do.

I think another problem we have here in Hamilton are people like Cameron who way overstate the actions of a few boneheads in our midst.

And I don't think this is the equivalent of a high school - at all. It's more like elementary school. A bunch of 11 year olds getting all excited while the adults roll their eyes.

Comment edited by ergopepsi on 2019-08-15 10:51:07

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted August 15, 2019 at 10:53:09 in reply to Comment 130300

How many boneheads does it take to kill counter-protestors? Charlottesville suggests the answer is "one". But there is more than one bonehead over there who has advocated ceaseless violence against Jews, gays, Muslims, people of colour.

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By cameronkroetsch (registered) | Posted August 15, 2019 at 11:01:43 in reply to Comment 130300

I think that if a menacing person dressed in military fatigues drives a bus up onto the public forecourt of City Hall into a crowd of people that they should be separated from their multi-tonne weapon immediately. Instead there was a period where police waited around for the bus driver to let them into the bus (the equivalent of a friendly knock at the door), then some more time in which they proceeded to allow the driver to remain in control of the bus while they "talked him down". There were enough officers present to separate the bus driver from his weapon, boot it, and take it away so that it could not be used again in that manner. Instead, they let the bus driver actually drive their weapon off the forecourt and around to the back of the building, then to drive it away so that they could bring it back next week. That's an incredible leap of faith on the part of police, and a huge amount of trust, for someone known to react violently and aggressively. I think that shrugging your shoulders about this stuff is dangerous and I think it's important for everyone to speak out about this.

Comment edited by cameronkroetsch on 2019-08-15 11:03:30

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted August 15, 2019 at 11:42:03 in reply to Comment 130301

I would argue that the cartoons that hang out at city hall are last ones you - or anyone - should be expending any energy on because they are most likely the ones that will end up doing something stupid if they are angered enough. Let the faded sad looking old men protest taxes and Trudeau and whatever else they want quietly on a Saturday as they are free to do in a free society.

As the husband of a non-white person I can tell you that the real racism that needs to be dealt with is the racism you don't see in open display. Like being asked by well meaning adults if you are the nanny of your own child because hey, what else could you be? Or, sending out resume after resume with excellent qualifications but a 'foreign' sounding name at the top and getting no responses. Change that name to an English one and BOOM you're scheduling interviews every other day.

That is real racism and it can only be defeated by engaging with people - all people - and finding some common ground and understanding. What I hate to see is Cameron promoting this disengagement with city hall, encouraging people to fold their arms and turn away. That is exactly the opposite of what needs to be done.

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By cameronkroetsch (registered) | Posted August 15, 2019 at 12:15:28 in reply to Comment 130303

If you think this is just about Justin Trudeau and the carbon tax, you're not listening closely enough. I've stood and listened to the things that they're saying and witnessed the real violence they're capable of. The slope is beyond slippery. Those other forms of systemic racism definitely need to be addressed, but that's not going to happen by shrugging our shoulders at what others are highlighting. It's all serious. And, for the record, Cameron (me), is not telling people to disengage from City Hall: quite the opposite, actually. In the last few years, I've consistently shown up to delegate, attend meetings, and work toward improving our government. I can assure you that my record of involvement to improve things in the City and to work with City Hall would stand up to whatever scrutiny you're applying. I'll be delegating again soon. You're welcome to come down and see it for yourself. In the meantime, there's lots of video, minutes, and documents you can access to catch up on the work I've been doing.

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted August 15, 2019 at 13:21:39

I don't understand the apologists for the hate bus driver - ergopepsi and PGFontana posting on another article. Why did he deserve just a pat on the head and to be sent on his way? He DROVE A BUS ONTO A PUBLIC SIDEWALK. If you knew nothing else about this situation, what more would you possibly need to know? It would be assumed the driver would have been ticketed, had his license suspended, possibly had a breathalyzer and then be arrested for endangering lives. But no, the "professional" approach is to talk to him for 30 minutes and then let him drive the bus away (to illegally park behind city hall).

Take a step back, let go of your biases and realize we have a situation here. Cameron is not to blame for the B.S. happening at City Hall on Saturdays. There are many factors, the major ones being unequal policing and dead silence of many of our city politicians.

But, hey. You do you, as they say.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted August 15, 2019 at 14:25:45 in reply to Comment 130305

Do you know that the driver wasn't charged with a traffic offense and ticketed?

Step back from MY biases? I guess if you're in a certain state of mind you wouldn't notice the bias present in this article. Everyone who is not a 'counter protester' is a 'fascist'. I love the part about the guy who was arrested because he was innocently dancing around. And, no, I don't believe he was just innocently dancing around.

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By cameronkroetsch (registered) | Posted August 15, 2019 at 16:16:49 in reply to Comment 130306

Last reply from me on this: your "beliefs" about what people are saying, not saying, doing, and not doing are just that. I witnessed things and so did others and I'm not going to get into an ideological or hypothetical discussion about this with you. There are real world impacts and I'm taking them seriously. Others are too. I'm sorry that you don't think that this is serious. We need as many people as possible to join us in opposing this rising hatred.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted August 15, 2019 at 21:45:57 in reply to Comment 130308

Disengagement in the face of rational discussion seems to be your MO. I expected that.

Yes you witnessed a guy make a stupid decision to drive his bus on to the sidewalk and not hurt or even come close to hurting anyone. You saw the cops deal with him and you don't know what punishment he now faces.

You saw your 'dancer' goad and provoke the 'fascists' and you saw the cops restrain him in order to prevent an already tense situation from getting out of hand. When he resisted, they used additional force. Almost like I was there isn't it?

I take racism and homophobia very seriously. As I mentioned earlier my family is mostly visible minority so this is not a subject that I can simply 'shrug my shoulders' about.

What I can't stand is when I read these ridiculous articles so obviously blowing things out of proportion, misrepresenting facts, stretching, colouring or plain old manufacturing the truth. You're writing about white supremacists ffs - just write what you saw. Do you really have to try to make it sound worse than it is? It's already as bad as it can be. When I read stuff like this my fear is that others are not going to take it seriously. Anyone with half an ability to think critically can see that this article among others is written with a serious and almost comical bias. Just represent the facts as they are and the rest will take care of itself.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted August 16, 2019 at 08:00:40 in reply to Comment 130310

" When I read stuff like this my fear is that others are not going to take it seriously."

And you respond by not taking it seriously! SMH

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted August 16, 2019 at 09:05:51 in reply to Comment 130311

ya. smh...

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted August 16, 2019 at 11:37:56 in reply to Comment 130310

Why would he keep replying when you are so obviously entrenched in your opinions and bias? Nobody wants to keep beating their head against a brick wall. You didn't like the article, only others have bias, you're the only one who sees the situation clearly. We can all move on.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted August 16, 2019 at 13:26:42 in reply to Comment 130313

All correct (especially about the brick wall) except that I'm sure others besides myself see the issue with a bit more clarity.

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By Clyde_Cope (registered) | Posted August 17, 2019 at 16:07:41

What bus company owns the school bus? I'm sure they would be very uncomfortable with publicity.

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By positive1@cogeco.ca (registered) | Posted August 18, 2019 at 12:47:03 in reply to Comment 130319

It's a privately owned bus.

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