Below we publish an open letter by the McMaster Indigenous Student Community Alliance (MISCA), condemning the unjust charges laid against Fightback activist Maximiliano Herrera and 3 others by the Hamilton Police Service. Importantly, the letter makes it clear that the problem extends well beyond the arrest of these four activists, which is only part of an ongoing history of police repression and targeting of marginalized communities, leftists, labour, and the broader movement, while simultaneously protecting racists and fascists.
We are proud to announce that MISCA will have a representative at the rally against police repression in Hamilton on November 12. The people of Hamilton have had to deal with excessive racialized carding, police corruption, brutality, and overreaches of power for to long.
We encourage all our supporters to join us at the John Sopinka Court House on November 12 at 8 am to rally against the Hamilton police and ongoing repression of left-wing activists. More information about the rally can be found on Facebook.
Thursday November 7th, 2019
Re: Arrests stemming from September 29th anti-hate protest at Mohawk College
McMaster Indigenous Student Community Alliance (MISCA) condemns the charges recently laid against four protesters in relation to an anti-hate protest at Mohawk College. In each case the charges are entirely inappropriate. Further, we believe the arrests reflect politically motivated repression of activists by Hamilton Police Services (HPS). MISCA joined the September protest against Maxime Bernier and his supporters, so it is critical we state our knowledge of what transpired, and voice our support for those who have been targeted by police.
MISCA members, like many other protesters, explicitly rallied against violence. Our community has been impacted by the hateful public displays happening with increasing regularity in our city, and we joined others at Mohawk College to send a resounding message that we condemn racism, fascism, and violence rooted in colonial oppression. Bernier supporters, including Proud Boys, Yellow Vests, and other familiar faces from Hamilton City Hall, felt empowered to flaunt their hate while lingering outside McIntyre Theatre play-acting “security.” These supporters hurled racist, anti-Indigenous, Islamophobic, and homophobic slurs at protesters.
Police did not direct Bernier attendees to walk around the protest or use a separate entrance. Indeed, many attendees walked directly through the middle of the protest harassing protestors along the way. In one such instance, a white fascist approaching through the crowd shoved an Indigenous protester, and then grabbed another protester from behind. Maximiliano Herrera intervened in defense by pulling the fascist off the back of the protester. It was only then that police decided to get involved; Max was immediately piled on by multiple police officers, while the person who initiated the physical violence was seen by fellow protesters escorted into the event via another entrance. Max was released the same day unconditionally, but a month later was arrested. The other protesters, including Alaa Al Soufi, Kevin Metcalf, and Victoria Wojciechowska, were similarly arrested several weeks after the event on trumped up charges.
It is deeply troubling that the arrests were not initiated until the morning following the recent 2019 federal election, raising questions about partisan political influences on HPS. It is also disturbing that no charges have been laid against any fascist agitators, despite there being photo and video evidence of their violent behaviour, such as ripping signs and even throwing punches. This indicates HPS are deliberately targeting anti-hate and anti-fascist activists, particularly those who are racialized, while giving a pass to violent hatemongers.
A recent October 24th Hamilton Spectator article on the arrests seems to confirm public suspicions about inappropriate leverage. Inspector Dave Hennick is quoted as stating that for “each of the individuals impacted by the events that night, it was significant” (O’Reilly, 2019). Hennick indicates that the charges were made because of the feelings of “victims,” who all happen to be Maxime Bernier supporters attending the event. Indeed, one such “victim,” identified online as Andrew Chiasson, has used social media to praise the 2017 Quebec mosque shooter, calling for January 29th to be Alexander Bissonnette Day, and is known for using his altered hockey stick flag pole as a weapon at various neoNazi events.
As public servants, police decisions should be based on objective and measured evaluation of events, not political pressure or the subjective impressions of those who were uncomfortable having their event protested. A particularly stark example of this bias is the charge of “intimidation” against Alaa Al Soufi for standing near protesters chanting at Dorothy Marston, an elderly Bernier attendee. It is entirely unsurprising that a white woman who publicly admitted her trepidation about immigrants – specifically those from the Middle East and Syria, which “frightens” her, as she remarked in an October 2nd CBC article (Taekema, 2019) – would find a Brown man from Syria intimidating. Standing too close to a white woman is enough to be criminalized when you are an Indigenous, Brown or Black person. Dorothy was guided into the event after a moment’s delay. Alaa was not identified, questioned, or arrested at the protest, but after enduring a subsequent horrifying campaign of death threats and abuse waged by Bernier supporters and other racist hate groups, police were persuaded to lay charges against him because “it was significant” to the “victims.”
However, this is just the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of transgressions by both HPS and Mayor Fred Eisenberger regarding prolific oppressive violence in Hamilton. We refer to events surrounding 2019 Hamilton Pride and police conduct, the subsequent arrest of a local trans activist for being critical of police, city employment of leading white supremacist Marc Lemire, Mayor Eisenberger’s refusal to directly name and admonish the hate groups active around City Hall, and a recent Gandhi Peace Festival where Mayor Eisenberger was pictured chatting familiarly with Yellow Vest members, amongst myriad other examples.
Hamilton has been dubbed the “Hate Capital” of Canada. Actions taken by HPS and Mayor Eisenberger over the past year have not only demonstrated incompetence in response to hate in the city, but serve to embolden those seeking to disparage, intimidate, and harm Indigenous people, refugees, immigrants, 2SLGBTQIA+ people, and other marginalized groups. Indeed, members of marginalized groups are the ones targeted by police. We call for all the charges against these protesters to be dropped immediately, as the first of many steps needed in the process of amending Hamilton’s systemic reproduction of hate.