Now that Hamilton police say they believe there is a link between Saturday night’s vandalism spree on Locke Street and an anarchist book fair at Westdale Secondary School, the chairman of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board is clarifying why the board rented the facility to the group.
Todd White said they’ve rented Westdale out for the annual book fair since 2010 and there’s never been a problem.
He said the rental permit was actually in the name of Steel City Book Fair and was issued to a group called the Ontario Public Interest Research Group at University of Toronto or OPIRG Toronto.
The group describes itself as a social justice and environmental organization.
LISTEN: Todd White of the HWDSB joins The Bill Kelly Show on 900 CHML
White said the group was vetted and “the description we received was that of social justice themes, environmental themes, feminism, anti-racism initiatives and things like that.”
“It checked out on paper so the event went ahead,” said White.
Rachele Clemente, OPIRG volunteer and programming co-ordinator, told CHML that in order to rent the space at Westdale, the group behind the book fair needed a registered charity to support their application.
“We gave them permission to use our name to book the space but … that was the extent of our support of the event,” she said. “We did not offer any funding or any support beyond that.”
She said the organizers of the book fair, a group called the Tower, have told OPIRG Toronto they had nothing to do with the incident on Locke.
“They simply assured us they had no connection to the individuals that carried out the incident in question,” she said.
She said OPIRG does not support such action as a matter of policy.
CHML spoke with Clemente just before the Tower issued a statement saying that it supports the vandalism spree, but did not organize it.
“No, the actions on Locke and Aberdeen on Saturday night were not organized by the Tower, but yes, we support what happened and are in solidarity with those who carried them out,” the group said in a Facebook post.
So far, Hamilton police have not said how they believe the book fair is connected to the vandalism.
White said the school board has met with police, and investigators have asked to see video surveillance captured in the high school that weekend.
— With a file from Kerri Breen