Hamilton’s ‘Take Back The Night’ march for survivors of sexual violence cancelled

An annual event offering support for survivors of sexual violence will not include a march down Main Street in 2019.
An annual event offering support for survivors of sexual violence will not include a march down Main Street in 2019. Nick Westoll / Global News

An annual march for survivors of sexual violence that has been held in Hamilton for the past 38 years will not happen this year.

“Take Back The Night,” hosted by the Sexual Assault Centre Hamilton Area (SACHA), has included a procession through the streets of downtown Hamilton since it began in 1981.

In a blog post on Thursday, organizers cited multiple reasons for deciding not to hold a march this year, including logistics related to the route, a lack of funding, and community members expressing concerns about safety in the presence of police.

Event coordinator Danielle Boissoneau said it was one of the most difficult decisions the committee has ever had to make.

“It’s really reflective of people’s ability to be safe, and understanding that safety means different things for different folks,” Boissoneau said.

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During an August meeting with city staff and police, Boissoneau said SACHA was informed that they wouldn’t be able to have the march with all four lanes of the route along Main Street closed — which would have been required due to the number of people that were planning to participate.

Instead, they would be restricted to marching in one lane or on the sidewalk, or with a different route altogether — departing from the back of city hall — that would require two more paid police officers than the previous years.

Boissoneau said marching in a single lane wasn’t an ideal option, given feedback from last year’s march that said participants felt there was “pushback” from police officers involved.

WATCH: Take Back the Night event planned for Fort Saskatchewan

Click to play video: 'Take Back the Night event aims to end sexual and domestic violence'
Take Back the Night event aims to end sexual and domestic violence

An the alternate route — exiting through the back of city hall — and going along a series of smaller streets wasn’t a viable option for organizers either.

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“It almost seemed like it would have made the march more invisible since we wouldn’t have been taking up space on some of the main arteries in Hamilton,” said Boissoneau, adding that the march has previously started along Main Street before going down John, King, and Hess streets.

To cap it off, SACHA held a town hall on Sept. 4, during which they heard from community members who said they didn’t feel safe marching in close proximity with police.

“During the entire course of the evening, no one really mentioned that police were integral to safety,” said Boissoneau. “We recognize that having police to protect folks — from oncoming traffic and to make sure that traffic lights are stopped and that our march can proceed safely — as being important to the process. But at the same time, we were hearing from folks that unfortunately, it’s kind of difficult to mitigate police violence in these situations as well.”

On Thursday, Deputy Chief Frank Bergen said he didn’t want the march to be cancelled due to the cost of two paid duty police officers.

“I appeal to them to sit down and work with us, and we would make sure that they are comfortable with what our appropriate response would be,” said Bergen. “Let’s not lose it based on an officer’s value.”

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“I think the value of the march, and the value of what the 38 years stand for, and the ‘Take Back The Night’ energy is so important, that we need to be part of that.”

Bergen added that police reached out to SACHA in light of the news about the cancellation.

“SACHA staff is meeting again this morning to reflect on the recent developments regarding the march,” said Boissoneau in an email to Global News on Friday.

Further meetings will be held on Monday to determine if the response from police will change the situation but as of Friday afternoon, the march remains cancelled.

The event itself will still go on, however.

It will be held in the city hall forecourt on Sept. 19 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and will feature musical and spoken word performances, screen printing, a film screening, and other community activities.

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