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Amid criticism from businesses, Hamilton police chief says tackling vandalism ‘very important’

Hamilton police linking vandalism by mob to weekend anarchist book fair
Tue, Mar 6: Hamilton police say they've now received enough tips and gathered enough evidence to connect a weekend anarchist book fair to Saturday night's act of vandalism near the downtown core. Shallima Maharaj has the update.

In the wake of last weekend’s mob vandalism on Locke Street, Hamilton’s police chief is responding to criticism from the business community that officers aren’t doing enough to combat vandalism and graffiti.

READ MORE: Hamilton police link anarchist book fair, Locke street vandalism investigation

On The Bill Kelly Show on Thursday, Eric Girt said police take such offences seriously.

“We have had prosecutions, in fact criminal prosecutions,” Girt said. “This is not a nuisance offence; this is a mischief. We have had people incarcerated for these offences and vandalism. So that is our approach. It’s not that we take it as a nuisance and that it’s not important.  It’s very important.”

WATCH BELOW: Hamilton police link Locke street vandalism to anarchist book fair

Hamilton police link Locke street vandalism to anarchist book fair
Hamilton police link Locke street vandalism to anarchist book fair

On Saturday night, a black-clad mob descended on the Locke Street area carrying a banner that said “We are the ungovernable.” An early estimate from police said they caused $100,000 worth of damage from throwing rocks and setting off fireworks.

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No group has claimed responsibility, though police have said they believed the event was well-organized.

LISTEN: Police chief Eric Girt joins the Bill Kelly Show on 900 CHML

While the incident has galvanized support for local businesses in the Locke Street area, it has also spurred questions about the response to an “epidemic” of vandalism believed to be linked to anti-gentrification activism.

Architect Bill Curran said the Barton Village Business Improvement Area has started to tally the number of destructive incidents in recent months.

“Certainly what happened on Locke Street on Saturday is of course horrible, but this has been going on since at least the Try! Hamilton event in June 2016, which is 21 months, roughly,” he said in reference to a real estate investment event that was met with protests.

READ MORE: Hamilton police say Locke Street vandalism appears to have been well-planned

“And during that time we’ve had, you know, really zero interest from the police or city hall in this. We’ve been just ignored, largely,” he said.

LISTEN BELOW: More than just Locke Street has seen anti-gentrification vandalism

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Hamilton police are still looking for suspects in the Locke Street case.

On Wednesday, Hamilton anarchist group The Tower denied they had organized the event, but said in a Facebook post condemning gentrification that they have “no tears to shed” for Locke Street.

READ MORE: Masked group vandalizes Locke Street businesses

The Tower is also the group behind the Hamilton Anarchist Book Fair, also known as the Steel City Book Fair, that took place over the weekend at Westdale Secondary School.

Police have claimed that the vandalism is linked to the book fair, but have declined to provide any details on the evidence they have collected.

READ MORE: City Council votes to condemn acts of violence against Hamilton citizens

Meanwhile, Hamilton City Council voted on Thursday in favour of Coun. Donna Skelly’s motion to publicly condemn recent acts of violence against citizens — including Saturday’s attack on Locke Street.

LISTEN BELOW: Donna Skelly joins The Bill Kelly Show

With files from Sara Cain and Ken Mann