Nearly two dozen LGBTQ2 community members and allies have set up an encampment at Hamilton city hall.
The group gathered in the forecourt around 8 a.m. Friday morning where a number of tents and tables were set up. Organizers say they won’t hold discussions with city councillors about moving forward “until all charges against Pride defenders are dropped and Cedar Hopperton is released from prison.”
Hopperton was arrested June 22, accused of breaching parole, following their conviction in last year’s vandalism on Locke Street.
The activist was at a city hall forum on June 18 in the aftermath of the violence at Hamilton Pride and directed an expletive at police in attendance.
“We’re here because it’s time for queer people to come together and talk,” said Charlotte Prue, who is planning on staying at the encampment. “The mayor has chosen to hold closed-door meetings with hand-picked 2SLGBTQ+ Hamiltonians while ignoring those who are angry at city hall and the police. We’re here to say we won’t be ignored.”
The group says the encampment is a response to the violent attack at the local Pride festival on June 15 and “the political fallout that has ensued.”
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“The past month has been an ongoing disappointment for many of us who expected that an organized attack on Pride would elicit clear and unwavering support from city leaders,” Prue explained.
The group says the “Camp Chaos Gays” will remain up throughout the weekend and has invited all other “queers and allies in the city” to come join them.
Although the encampment happens to coincide with a “Hamilton For Who?” rally that is scheduled for Saturday in the city hall forecourt on Saturday, fellow activist Trish Mills said they’re not affiliated with that event, which has been organized by Pride Hamilton and a number of other community groups. That rally has been billed as a “peaceful” and “family-friendly” event that aims to be more performance-based and non-political.
“We’re divergent groups,” said Mills. “Our event will be very political. We believe that being trans, non-binary and queer is inherently political, so our event will have certain politics attached to it that invite people to come and discuss where we’re coming from, and advance and broaden their perspectives.”
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Mills said their group is encouraging people who may not understand the community’s frustrations to come down to the forecourt and engage with them.
“Start listening to the people who are being criminalized, who are in jail, who were physically assaulted at Pride,” said Mills. “Understand that our perspectives are coming from somewhere, that they’re experiential. Please come down, engage, join the discussions, hear what we have to say and why we’re upset.”
The group’s Facebook page “After Pride” lists events including legal workshops, a queer history of anti-police struggles and a Drag Queen Story Hour for children.
Organizers are also planning a community conversation about the “problems 2SLGBTQ+ people have been facing in Hamilton since the attack on Pride by homophobic street preachers four weeks ago.”
“We have no interest in talking to Mayor Eisenberger,” said Marsha Kauffman. “Cedar Hopperton is still in jail for giving a speech in defence of their own safety in those council chambers up there. We don’t want to make nice with the cops who put them behind bars.
“We are going to host our own community debrief every day for the next three days to identify the problems queer people face and what solutions we want to pursue together without cops or politicians in the way.”
It comes days after the Ontario Parole Board decided that Hopperton would remain in custody for allegedly breaching parole following their speech at the LGBTQ2 community discussion at city hall on June 18.
Hopperton’s lawyer had argued that their remarks were covered under the constitutional right to freedom of expression, but the board determined that the comments were “inflammatory in nature” and created an “undue risk of a breach of the peace.”
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) has also weighed in on Hopperton’s case, calling it “deeply concerning.”
“That idea of ‘undue risk of a breach of the peace’ is a bit of a nebulous and tenuous concept to use as a way to justify keeping someone in jail,” said Cara Zwibel, director of the CCLA’s Fundamental Freedoms Program. “It seems to me that every word in that phrase is open to a lot of different interpretations.”
She added that the parole board may not have considered the context in which Hopperton’s comments were made.
“This was a meeting to discuss a specific agenda and these comments were made in that context,” said Zwibel. “And they were made in a way that I think is speaking to the community and saying, ‘These are things we need to talk about, these are things we need to consider.'”
Zwibel said that according to their lawyer, Hopperton also checked in with their parole officer before attending the meeting.
“I think we have to be really careful in a democratic society that ‘keeping the peace’ and ‘being of good behaviour’ doesn’t mean that you don’t stand up for what you believe in or that you don’t take opportunities to address issues that are important to you, even if you do that in a way that makes people uncomfortable.”
Four people are facing charges in connection with the violence at the Hamilton Pride event at Gage Park last month, one of which was allegedly part of an anti-Pride far-right group.
Christopher Vanderweide, 27, of Kitchener is facing two counts of assault with a weapon and remains in custody.
He will return to court for a bail hearing next week.