The recent capitol riots, the resurgence of neo-Nazis and white supremacist sentiments are present in our own backyards

By: Ruchika Gothoskar, Contributor

CW: white supremacy

On Jan. 6, 2021, supporters of United States President Donald Trump stormed the United States Capitol, claiming that the latest federal election was stolen from them, rioting loudly and violently against Trump’s imminent defeat. As police officers responded (with little to no urgency) and rioters broke windows and came fully armed, the online maelstrom was just beginning. 

Social media was awash with Canadians glued to their televisions and refreshing their feeds, only to move on from the incident days later, having learned little about the insidious nature of white supremacist organizing. The general sentiment among many Canadians tends to be relief; contentment with the idea that, well, stuff like that just doesn’t happen here

But the stark reality is that this “stuff,” meaning violent racism, white supremacist beliefs and outrageous conspiracy theory-driven drivel not only exists in Canada, but thrives and originates here. 

One well-known white supremacist group that was central to much of the action at the Capitol in Washington was the Proud Boys. Founded by Canadian Gavin McInnes, the Chilliwack Progress writes that the Proud Boys are a right-wing group that is misogynistic and increasingly connected to white supremacist ideals.

Facebook and Instagram banned the Proud Boys in October 2018 for violating their hate policies and Trump famously declined to condemn the Proud Boys during a U.S. presidential debate with Joe Biden in September 2020. Instead, he told the group to “stand back and stand by,” even after malicious hate-fuelled tirades by the group and its supporters. 

But the stark reality is that this “stuff,” meaning violent racism, white supremacist beliefs and outrageous conspiracy theory-driven drivel not only exists in Canada, but thrives and originates here. 

Present amongst the rioters at the capitol were many folks who identified themselves as members of the Proud Boys; a group with roots that are unequivocally Canadian.

Trumpism also isn’t something reserved for those in the US, with pro-Trump sentiment and subsequent racist and white supremacist thought and actions seeping into Canada. Alberta Minister of Forestry and Agriculture Devin Dreeshen proudly attended a Trump rally, sporting the infamous "Make America Great Again" hat and even campaigned for Trump in multiple states back in 2016. 

During the storming of the Capitol, a pro-Trump convoy took up close to three city blocks in Toronto, honking and proclaiming that they were trying to “Stop the Steal,” referencing the apparently stolen election. 

Pro Trump convoy (about 2 city blocks long) headed up Yonge Street in Toronto right now. Interesting times. #StopTheSteaI I presume. pic.twitter.com/jXeVLOCrNY

— D. Jared Brown (@LitigationGuy) January 6, 2021

While such violent groups with such polarizing beliefs may seem distant even still, the truth is that pro-police, anti-government, white supremacist movements are alive and well in Canadian cities.

This summer, the destruction of Sipkne'katik First Nation lobster storage sites on the east coast was proof of continued violence against racialized peoples in Canada, as commercial fishermen incited violence against Indigenous fishermen while the Royal Canadian Mounted Police reportedly did nothing to help.

During the storming of the Capitol, a pro-Trump convoy took up close to three city blocks in Toronto, honking and proclaiming that they were trying to “Stop the Steal,” referencing the apparently stolen election. 

Similarly, RCMP violently raided Wet'suwet'en blockades in British Columbia, the Ontario Provincial Police tore down 1492 Land Back Lane land reclamation camps in Caledonia, and in our very own #HamOnt, 2019 Pride events were interrupted by “hateful protests” led by yellow vest protestors who were fuelled by white nationalist sentiment. 

Our innocent little city of Hamilton has some reckoning to do with the part it plays in white supremacist insurgence. Paul Fromm, a self-described white nationalist, was permitted to run for mayor in Hamilton, even after losing a mayoral race in Mississauga the year earlier, due largely to his pro-white, anti-immigration rhetoric. 

Executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network Evan Balgord cites that the neo-Nazi movement is aligning itself with so-called free-speech events or “men’s rights” events, which are increasingly popular on university and college campuses. This is something we’ve seen attempted at McMaster University, in our own Clubs department, too.

The reality is that Canadians don’t have room to be sanctimonious in the face of violence. Rather than painting our country as the place of harmonious maple syrup dreams and socialized health care, we need to come to terms with the ways white supremacy and racial injustice has become so deeply ingrained in our daily lives.

Rather than ignoring the signs of growing tensions, police brutality and the role that policing plays in encouraging and fostering anti-Black, anti-Indigenous and white supremacist sentiment, Canadians need to start taking an active role in advocating for anti-racism and anti-fascist policies and movements.

It is not enough to just claim that we are better without doing any of the hard work. It is high time that we come face to face with the extremism in our own backyards and address the ways white supremacist organizing has, and will continue to hurt Black, Indigenous and racialized Canadians if not dealt with headfirst in the coming months and years.

Activists gather to demand defunding of police services and investments in free housing

On Nov. 23 following National Housing Day, a group of activists known as Defund HPS gathered outside of Hamilton City Hall to demand the defunding of police services across all levels of government and greater investment into free permanent housing.

The group is asking for an immediate 50 per cent reduction of the Hamilton Police Services budget.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Our coalition is outside @cityofhamilton. We won’t leave until money is divested from municipal, provincial, and federal police, and invested into free permanent housing. #HamOnt #OnPoli #CndPoli #HousingIsAHumanRight 1/9

— Defund HPS (@DefundHPS) November 23, 2020

Other demands from the group include rejection of the $4 million budget increase that was requested by the HPS and that the HPS budget surplus of $567,875 is reallocated toward free permanent housing.

“Despite years of promises [regarding] housing, houseless people across the country are being brutalized by municipalities and police. Right now, there are [more than] 20 encampments in #HamOnt,” the group wrote on Twitter.

“Despite years of promises [regarding] housing, houseless people across the country are being brutalized by municipalities and police. Right now, there are [more than] 20 encampments in #HamOnt,” the group wrote on Twitter.

The group added that tents are being destroyed and mass park evictions are occurring while women’s shelters reach maximum capacity and men’s shelters provide unlivable or undignified conditions.

“People will die in the cold because our economy is prioritized over human life . . . Housing is a human right and must be free,” the group tweeted.

“People will die in the cold because our economy is prioritized over human life . . . Housing is a human right and must be free,” the group tweeted.

The group has now set up tents outside of Hamilton City Hall and state that they won’t be leaving until their demands are met. They are also asking to meet with Hamilton’s Mayor, Fred Eisenberger.

Sarah Jama, the organizer of the protest, has been charged by Hamilton police due to the number of people at the protest allegedly exceeding what is permitted for an outdoor gathering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jama will appear in court on Feb. 22, 2021 and is liable to pay a minimum fine of $10,000 if convicted.

On Nov. 26, after days of remaining outside of City Hall, Defund HPS organized a dance party to gather more attention and continue calling upon the mayor for action.

Maybe they can't hear us - let's get LOUD. Join us tonight at 6:30 PM for a dance party in front of City Hall! DJ miss crabs will keep us warm and grooving - let's make it unmistakable that if we don't get it, we WILL shut it down and we WILL turn it up. pic.twitter.com/MSw895z198

— Defund HPS (@DefundHPS) November 26, 2020

Also on Nov. 26, a news release from the city stated that bylaw officers will start issuing removal notices for the tents that are set up in front of City Hall. The release said that the notices do not impact people’s rights to gather in front of City Hall, but will indicate that tents and other structures need to be removed immediately.

“[T]he City will work with demonstrators to have them removed by 11:59 p.m. on Sunday night to allow reasonable time for dismantling and removal. It is only the tents and structures that are being ordered for removal, individuals are permitted to remain on site, provided they do not exceed the 25-person outdoor gathering limit,” the city wrote.

On Nov. 27, the fifth day of the demonstration, a statement from Defund HPS was released. The statement shared that Eisenberger had finally spoken out about the demonstration and that he had called the group’s demands to defund the police irrational. Eisenberger said that the city had already made investments into housing.

However, the group stated that they believe the $50 million invested over a 10 year period into housing is insignificant in comparison to the $171 million budget allocated to the Hamilton Police Service in this year alone.

DAY FIVE: PLEASE READ OUT STATEMENT BELOW #DefundThePolice #HamOnt #onpoli #canpoli pic.twitter.com/gTRDGGMUMt

— Defund HPS (@DefundHPS) November 28, 2020


The next day, on Nov. 28, Eisenberger refused to meet with Defund HPS publicly but instead said that he would be willing to meet the group privately within closed quarters with no technology present.

In response, the group rejected meeting privately as they believe it is not safe and would like to meet in a way that provides transparency to all the activists that have gathered for the demonstration.

Others have criticized the mayor’s request to meet privately, noting that the housing crisis in Hamilton is a public issue and deserves input from the public.

“Our mayor always wants to meet privately. Why? Residents of Hamilton expect their elected officials to engage with everybody in the city. Private meetings do not help with the situation. More often than not, in these private meetings no work is done,” said musician and Executive Director of the Hamilton Center for Civic Inclusion, Kojo Damptey, in a video he shared in support of the protest.

On Nov. 29, a vigil was hosted to commemorate the lives lost of unhoused people. Following seven days of the ongoing demonstration, the activists continue to stand by their demands and run interactive programs for all those joining them in front of City Hall, including mural painting as well as tote bag and t-shirt making.

On Nov. 30, bylaw officers and police began forcibly removing tents. Videos show that tents and other belongings are being thrown in the garbage.

On Nov. 30, bylaw officers and police began forcibly removing tents. Videos show that tents and other belongings are being thrown in the garbage.

A statement has since been made by Defund HPS in regards to the tent removals. The group noted that the organizers were not communicated with by police prior to their sudden arrival. The officers were not socially distanced and were handing out trespassing tickets to people for random actions such as holding flowers.

“What we witnessed today was a complete failure on the city’s part to keep people safe. It was a violent attack on people’s livelihood and right to existing in a public space . . . These structures at the camp were critical to keeping people alive, keeping each other fed, keeping each other clothed, keeping each other healthy. We enforced social distancing measures and COVID-safety measures the entire week. We were simply exercising our right to protest,” the group wrote in their statement.

“What we witnessed today was a complete failure on the city’s part to keep people safe. It was a violent attack on people’s livelihood and right to existing in a public space."

Defund HPS is now asking people to “wake up the mayor”, getting his attention by calling his number, posting on his Twitter or sending him an email.

THREAD:

Wake up Fred get out of bed! Let’s give the Mayor a morning reminder, given his refusal to meet with his constituents in public!

Check it out pic.twitter.com/HtP3bztvCZ

— Defund HPS (@DefundHPS) November 30, 2020

As the demonstration continues, the group is asking for donations from the community for items such as tents, sleeping bags, blankets, umbrellas and more. Items can be brought to New Vision United Church, which is across the street from City Hall, for volunteers to receive and sanitize.

When the Silhouette reached out to Defund HPS, they were unavailable for an interview.

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