Hamilton approves trespassing bylaw targeting hate groups protesting city hall

Councillors debate whether new rules restrict free speech

October 24, 2019 By Kevin Werner

Hamilton approves trespassing bylaw targeting hate groups protesting city hall | HamiltonNews.com

Hamilton councillors are hoping a new trespassing bylaw will curtail any potential hate-related confrontations or incidents during protests being held on city property, especially at city hall.

City officials, who pointed out Hamilton did not previously have a trespassing bylaw at its facilities, have been attempting to remove or at least stop hate-related incidents at city hall without impacting peoples’ right to protest, or prompting a Charter of Rights and Freedom lawsuit.

“This is actually not a bad bylaw,” said Stoney Creek Coun. Brad Clark. “It will work.”

The trespassing bylaw works in a similar manner as what is already the policy in place for individuals who are removed from recreation facilities for violent behaviour. The zero tolerance policy, approved in 1998 and revised in 2001 and reviewed in 2005, bans a person for violent conduct, including intimidation, threats, aggressively approaching another person, racial or ethnic slurs, vandalism, attempts to goad or incite violence, or using foul language. The person can appeal the suspension and ask for a private meeting with a senior city official to discuss the ban. The cost of the appeal is $250, which is non-refundable if the suspension is maintained.

Hamilton approves trespassing bylaw targeting hate groups protesting city hall | HamiltonNews.com

The trespassing bylaw, said Clark, is similar in concept to the zero tolerance policy.  A person or group of people that are removed or banned from city hall can request a private meeting with a senior official to remove the suspension. If the ban is upheld, the group or person can appeal the decision to the courts.

“We made it fair, we made it consistent with the other policies of the city,” said Clark. “It doesn’t infringe on anyone’s charter of rights. They have the right to appeal to the courts. It’s really that simple.”

The trespass bylaw, which was requested by the Hamilton Police Service, prohibits conduct such as contravening a law of Canada, province or municipality, damage or vandalism of city premises, or interfering with the operation or use of city premises.

“This helps (police) do their job,” said Clark.

The trespass notice can be provided to the offender either orally or in writing, and will prohibit entry to a city facility for seven days. The city also has the option of banning a person for more than five years.

The trespass bylaw is another initiative council hopes will prevent hate-related incidents on city property. In July, council unanimously approved a motion to install enhanced cameras – at a cost of $100,000 – at city hall to strengthen security within the forecourt area. The cameras will collect data during that could be provided to police for use in court.

Hamilton approves trespassing bylaw targeting hate groups protesting city hall | HamiltonNews.com

The city also will hire a security investigator for a two-year term. In addition, Hamilton has consulted with a landscape architect on how to provide a more secure environment at the city hall forecourt. In the past, the city has installed barriers to separate opposing groups.

City manager Janette Smith said at the time regarding the hate-related policy that “We tried to balance people’s rights to assemble and peacefully protest, but at the same time we have a responsibility to create an inclusive and safe space for everyone in our community.”

The crack down on hate groups that use public spaces has been prompted by a series of incidents involving the Yellow Vest movement, where a group of individuals have been protesting in front of city hall every Saturday for months. They are sometimes met by counter-protesters, some with their faces covered.

Mountain Coun. Terry Whitehead, at the Oct. 23 council meeting, said the imposition of such a ban could still violate the free speech of an individual or group.

“Many times there are different individuals with conflicting views (and) we are basically saying if you misbehave in our opinion, we think you should be banned,” said Whitehead, who was one of two councillors in a 11-2 vote that voted against the bylaw.

“We are messing around with people’s rights. We are messing around with something I fundamentally believe in.”

But Ward 4 Coun. Sam Merulla opposed the measure, arguing the city and council have already spent too much money and time dealing with “six morons” who protest at city hall every Saturday.

“We have manufactured a problem,” he said. “I say we put the brakes on this nonsense and focus in on what we need to do.

“If there was a crime against insulting people, I have a list as long as can be (of people) who should be arrested and in prison.”