Hamilton activist awaits decision following parole board hearing

One of many "Free Cedar" stickers posted around Hamilton city hall. Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

A decision will soon be made on whether or not a Hamilton activist will be released from custody.

The Ontario Parole Board heard from Cedar Hopperton’s lawyer on Thursday after the 33-year-old was arrested for allegedly violating probation in connection with last year’s vandalism spree on Locke Street.

Asaf Rashid said the hearing focused on two issues — whether or not Hopperton was present at Hamilton Pride at Gage Park on June 15, where there was a violent clash between far-right protesters and Pride supporters, and a speech made by Hopperton at an LGBTQ2 community meeting in city hall council chambers on June 18.

During that meeting, which was organized by the city’s LGBTQ2 advisory committee to discuss ongoing concerns facing the city’s marginalized residents, Hopperton — who uses ‘they/them’ pronouns — stood up and said they weren’t a member of any community that involved the police.

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They also urged the LGBTQ2 community not to rely on police protection from violent hate groups and told a member of the Hamilton Police Service who was in attendance to leave the meeting.

Rashid argues that Hopperton’s remarks were covered by the constitutional right to freedom of expression, adding that the meeting was advertised as a safe place for the LGBTQ2 community to speak.

“Ahead of the meeting, people knew this was a place where you can say how you feel, you can debrief, you can just have a chance to give your concerns about the police, about the city — anything like that,” said Rashid. “So people were invited to give their comments.”

The parole board looked at whether or not Hopperton’s remarks would cause “undue risk to public safety,” or whether the remarks would lead to a disturbance of the peace.

Rashid said the nature of the meeting was that it was an open one where people were encouraged to express themselves and Hopperton’s comments did not constitute unlawful speech.

“It can’t just be talking about self-defense and discussing how people can stay safe and help each other out. Even if talking about violence that happened or violence that’s possible in the future based on the relations between people that were at Pride and the far-right people that are creating an issue with LGBTQ people in Hamilton,” said Rashid. “It has to be something that is deliberately unlawful, not just discussing ideology and politics and things like that.”

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The other issue that was discussed was whether or not Hopperton was involved in the violence that occurred at Hamilton Pride, and Rashid said the evidence that Hamilton police provided for Hopperton’s presence at the event included some photos that he described as “completely off the mark.”

He added that he doesn’t want to make any assumptions about how the hearing went.

“It’s always a little dangerous to speculate on what the decision might be,” said Rashid. “All I can say as far my impression of how the hearing went, I thought that it was very fair. I thought that the two decision makers were very good at making inquiries, asking questions to get clarification.

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“They were interested in the cases I discussed, they were interested in the points that I made about the law of freedom of expression and the application to the situation Cedar was in.”

A decision is expected later Thursday or Friday morning.

Meanwhile, Christopher Vanderweide made another court appearance on Thursday morning.

The 27-year-old from Kitchener is facing two charges of assault with a weapon and is alleged to have been among the group of far-right protesters who engaged in violence at the Pride event.

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