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.

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.

 

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The City of Hamilton is pursuing a partnership with Cardus, despite concerns from some residents regarding the organization’s allegedly anti-LGBTQ and islamophobic views.  

According to their website, Cardus is a non-partisan, Christian-based think tank and registered charity that provides independent research and commentary on a wide range of topics. These topics include education, health, law, work, economics and spirited citizenship. The organization has recently directed its attention towards the Balfour House, a heritage site currently owned by the Ontario Heritage Trust and managed by the City of Hamilton, with the possibility of using it as their home base.

The historic stone mansion on the Mountain Brow currently requires renovations and is not accessible to the public. However, Cardus has proposed to restore and re-open the Balfour House for their own use and to make it available to the community. 

“Allowing Cardus to cover the costs of restoring and re-opening Balfour House to serve as our head office is a major part of keeping this city’s historical and architectural legacy alive,” said Michael Van Pelt, Cardus president and CEO, in a news release. 

According to Van Pelt, the proposal would restore the Balfour House and save taxpayers $1.5 million in repairs and operating costs over the next 20 years. Moreover, Cardus claims to have the support of David Balfour, whose grandparents once lived in the house during the 20th century. 

While the apparent financial benefit of Cardus’ proposal has captivated several city councillors, many Hamiltonians believe that the negotiations have given public space to anti-LGBTQ views.

“There is little doubt in my mind that some of Cardus’ publications could be interpreted by many as homophobic, Islamaphobic and transphobic. However, there [were] also many other publications that demonstrated acceptance of Canada’s pluralistic, multicultural and religious diverse society,” said Brad Clark, Ward 9 (Upper Stoney Creek) city councillor, in an interview with CBC news. 

The possibility of a partnership between the city and Cardus may allow for other recent discussions about hate in Hamilton to resurface. This past year, Hamilton’s city and police were criticized for how they handled violence at Hamilton’s Pride festival in June. More recently, yellow vesters, members of a xenophobic far-right hate group, are gathering weekly to protest in front of city hall. 

https://twitter.com/sarahjama_/status/1174981361557336066

“I’m no expert, but it seems like if Cardus were to exist in #HamOnt it would scale up, build upon a foundation of, and add a false sense of sophistication to the levels of white supremacist organizing in our city,” tweeted McMaster alumni and community organizer Sarah Jama. 

However, explicit evidence of Cardus’ alleged anti-LGBTQ and islamophobic views is hard to find. It is difficult to identify any overtly hateful content in the numerous articles the organization has published, instead appearing to focus on the freedom of religious expression.

While some articles are critical of these communities, others such as The Positive Difference of Islam and Enriched by Difference suggest the opposite. 

Van Pelt recently sent a letter to city councillors, stating that Cardus complies with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Ontario Human Rights Code, Ontario Employment Act and the City of Hamilton Equity and Inclusion Policy. 

“I would like to add that Cardus has an impressive record in terms of building an open and tolerant society in Canada . . . [Cardus leads] some of the most respectful and thoughtful discussions on faith and public life in the country, ” said Van Pelt in the letter. 

Hamilton’s City Council voted 13-2 to continue negotiations with Cardus. The majority of city councillors seem to agree that a partnership with Cardus may be in the city’s best interest as it will save on public expenditure, regardless of the potential impact on community groups. 

 

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Photo C/O Kyle West

By: William Li

Content Warning: White supremacy

On July 21, the Student Representative Assembly briefly discussed concerns about clubs engaging in foreign surveillance and white supremacy — but in a shocking move, put these concerns aside and simply ratified all proposed clubs anyway, triggering an intervention just three days later by McMaster Students' Union President Josh Marando.

Although Marando’s quick response to concerns of white supremacy and threats to marginalized students is a good start, this incident remains problematic: Why did the SRA ratify the Dominion society in the first place, even though these exact concerns were brought up in the SRA meeting prior to the ratification vote?

Currently, the clubs administrator processes club applications and provides a list of clubs to the SRA, which usually votes to approve all at once. However, the clubs administrator is an unelected person, and they are historically either unwilling or unable to act when clubs promote or endorse actions that put students at risk.

For example, they declined to take action in February, when the McMaster Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) publicly declared that they reported an event on campus to the Chinese government for discussing China’s human rights violations against Uighur Muslims. Soon, there were international headlines and concerns that such surveillance on campus puts Uighur and Chinese students at risk, since criticism of the Chinese Communist Party is often grounds for imprisonment in China

The clubs administrator then took months to prepare a memo in response, which the SRA quickly overlooked as they re-ratified the CSSA at their July 21 meeting without addressing the memo’s concerns of surveillance and harassment.

The still-unresolved CSSA fiasco is a great example of how the Dominion society is not a one-time thing, but rather, just the latest symptom of a much more serious problem: the MSU’s glaring inability to manage clubs, and an urgent need for major reform.

Although we have a new clubs administrator now, the systemic issues with this model of governance persist: the SRA expects the clubs administrator to manage problematic clubs, but the clubs administrator does not do much beyond preliminary research and providing information to the SRA upon request.

The result is that nobody does anything. Anybody who can successfully fill out forms simply gets stamped and approved. Clubs get away with everything from foreign surveillance to peddling false medical information, while MSU officials busy themselves tossing political hot potatoes at one another.

We saw such political runaround in action when SRA members tried asking clarifying questions about certain clubs, and the clubs administrator wrote in their response, “I strongly recommend ratifying the majority of clubs such that the MSU Clubs Department can move forward with our activities for the year. If there are still concerns about certain clubs, it would be better to bring your questions directly to them.”

Given this apparent urgency for SRA members to stop bothering the clubs administrator with questions about clubs and just move on, there should be no surprise that the Dominion society escaped the proper scrutiny that should have happened before—rather than after—the rushed ratification vote.

While the SRA and clubs administrator have rightfully gotten flak over these decisions, we must remember that the problem is systemic. The clubs administrator job description does not explicitly require them to supervise clubs, ensure truthfulness in club applications or even enforce the clubs operating policy. Meanwhile, the SRA appears ill-equipped to pick up the slack on this front.

In order to address this, the SRA should not simply rubber stamp whatever is put in front of them by the clubs administrator; rather, they should take the time to do research and get fully informed before voting. Additionally, as our elected representatives, they should make the political decisions that the clubs administrator cannot, which includes exercising their power to withhold club status.

Although some may argue that revoking club status should not be used as a tool for censorship, we must remember that club status is a privilege, not a right. If clubs expect to access funding, ClubSpace and other such perks paid for with student fees, then the SRA should hold clubs to the same standard as other MSU departments.

Next, the SRA must revisit the rushed July 21 ratification vote and actually scrutinize clubs properly (perhaps at the emergency meeting that Marando has called for, though it remains to be scheduled). Instead of having the MSU President intervene each time there is a problem or waiting for issues to blow up in the media, the SRA should proactively resolve issues. The consequences of inaction can be clearly seen in how Chinese nationalists have instigated violence on other university campuses, while white nationalists have been provoking violence right here in Hamilton.

Finally, in the long-term, we need systemic change. Even though the clubs operating policy was recently amended in June, the updated policy quickly flopped in action when it failed to prevent the Dominion society ratification about-face. Furthermore, even Human Rights Watch has felt compelled to provide recommendations for more substantial change to address the Chinese government’s threats to academic freedom. The recent amendment’s stunning failure, the recommendations from HRW, and Marando’s intervention show that band-aid solutions will be insufficient — the entire clubs operating policy is no longer viable and must be overhauled.

The SRA must now show leadership so that these troubling incidents do not happen again. If nothing significant is done, then this cycle — where the MSU condones clubs that endanger students and then pauses to reflect only after enough controversy is attracted — will simply continue.

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Photo C/O Kyle West

Content warning: white supremacy

On July 24, McMaster Students' Union president Josh Marando issued a letter urging the student representative assembly to revoke a new club’s status due to its alleged connections to people and organizations with white supremacist ties.

The Dominion society, originally named the MacDonald society, describes itself as a club aimed at celebrating Canadian culture and history.

“The independence of Canada as a sovereign nation in its own right, its colonial history, and its British, French and First Nations heritage will be prevailing themes in this club’s activity and pursuits,” the club stated in its cover letter.

The club was first introduced to the SRA at their June 23 meeting alongside 337 other clubs applying for ratification. 

At this time, some SRA members raised concerns about the club’s mandate of celebrating Canadian colonial history, given Canada's history of colonization and state violence.

“The celebration of Canada as a sovereign nation in its own right is absolutely false. Canada’s sovereignty is based off the genocide of Indigenous peoples,” said SRA (Social Science) member Vania Pagniello. “We have to think about McMaster as a space that we are trying to decolonize.”

There was also speculation about the group’s connection to the MacDonald cultural and historical society, an organization with no explicit connection to McMaster. The society has held recent events in the Hamilton area, according to its public Facebook page.

According to the MacDonald cultural and historical society’s social media accounts, the purpose of the group is to celebrate Canadian heritage and culture.

“The Macdonald cultural and historical society is a brotherhood of Canadians who hold dear the sympathies of our Founder; that above all else, our nation must be united together under shared bonds of loyalty, strength, perseverance and courage,” says the society’s description on Facebook.

McMaster community members raised concerns to SRA representatives that the MacDonald cultural and historical society used language that could be symbolic of white nationalist ties. In particular, the celebration of John A. MacDonald and the use of the red ensign were flagged as signs of potential white supremacist attitudes within the society.

There was discussion at the SRA meeting that there may be connections between the MacDonald cultural and historical society and the proposed McMaster club. However, some SRA representatives stated that they were unable to be certain that such a connection existed.

The SRA was hesitant to deny ratification outright. SRA (Science) member Simranjeet Singh  stated that all viewpoints should be permitted, noting that it is not necessary for the SRA to agree with every club that they ratify. According to Singh, SRA members were working with the presumption that applicants were acting in good faith. 

“We didn't want to prevent people from allowing their group to exist because of what a lot of us thought was hearsay and may not have been fully representative of the entire community as well,” said Singh.

The SRA considered further delaying ratification, but it was brought up that this would prevent the Dominion society from participating in clubs fest, a major opportunity for recruitment.

As a compromise, SRA members suggested monitoring the club over the course of the year to see whether their activities aligned with the clubs operating policy. It was noted that the SRA has historically never been responsible for monitoring clubs, and the monitoring strategy was not determined.

SRA members also suggested inviting Indigenous professors to speak to the Dominion society about decolonization and reconciliation, in the hopes that this would provide further context to the conversation around Canadian history. No SRA members indicated that they had done consultation with Indigenous people about the risks and feasibility of this suggestion.

On July 21, a month after the clubs were first pitched to the SRA, the SRA voted almost unanimously to ratify the MacDonald society. 

 RELEASE OF INFORMATION

On July 23, a Twitter thread was published showing a series of photos from the MacDonald cultural and historical society’s social media accounts. The thread identified certain individuals pictured attending events hosted by the society. It then posted a series of screenshots from a private Facebook group showing explicitly fascist, white supremacist comments allegedly made by the individuals in the photographs.

The thread also provided photographic evidence that the leader of the Dominion society had attended multiple events hosted by the Macdonald historical and cultural society.

The photographic evidence linking the Dominion society leader to the MacDonald cultural and historical society was visible to the public on the group’s Facebook page. However, neither the clubs administrators nor SRA members found this evidence while researching the club.

A day after this information was released, MSU president Josh Marando released a statement urging SRA members to deratify the club in light of the new information.

One major concern was that the group seemed to misrepresent its connections to an outside organization. This violates the clubs operating policy, which states that clubs must disclose all third party connections.

Based on documentation circulated online and forward to us, it appears to me that applicants of this club misrepresented their connection to a third party, which is a condition of ratification and hence why I am recommending its revocation,” said Marando in an emailed statement.

In addition, Marando stated that the club seemed to have connections to other organizations or people with white supremacist attitudes. 

“Such attitudes have no place in the MSU Clubs system or in campus discourse,” he wrote in his July 24 statement.

In a statement to CBC news following the release of Marando’s statement, the leader of the Dominion society denied connections to the Macdonald historical and cultural society was non political and stated that the club had no ties to white supremacist organizations.

IS IT ENOUGH?

In his statement, Marando highlighted the need to improve the clubs application process in order to prevent hate groups from using clubs as fronts for organizing. He called for an emergency SRA meeting, which has not yet been scheduled.

According to MSU general manager John McGowan, however, the situation does not represent a problem with the current approval process, which allows for deratification when new information comes to light.

“What's occurring now is proving that the system does work with regards to decisions being made but then being reflected on based on accurate information is being provided by the community,” said McGowan.

For others, however, the club should never have been ratified in the first place. According to the Hamilton student mobilization network, a local activist organization, the university has not done enough to oppose the growing threat of white supremacy on campus.

In their statement, the HSMN noted that white supremacist organizations are gaining traction on university campuses, and urged the MSU to meaningfully oppose these organizations.

“Had they treated concerns about the MacDonald Society’s white supremacist ties with the gravity they deserve, we would not now be in this situation to begin with,” said the statement. “We are calling on the MSU to permanently ban any organization that promotes white supremacy and implement measures to prevent this from ever happening again.”

The SRA has not yet scheduled an emergency meeting to vote on deratification. As the start of the school year draws near, the Dominion society’s club status remains uncertain.

 

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