The Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI) will host a multi-city anti-racism conference in the city early next year, thanks to a grant from the federal government.
Kojo Damptey, interim executive director of the HCCI, made the announcement Wednesday in front of Hamilton City Hall — a space that has been regularly occupied by Yellow Vest protesters and members of hate groups on Saturdays for months.
“The space we are on is for the public,” said Damptey. “So if hate groups have taken that space up and are using it to advance a cause that is not reflective of being inclusive, then we have to take that space back.”
He said Canadian Heritage has provided the Centre with $127,000 to conduct an anti-racism conference, scheduled for Feb. 28 and 29, 2020.
“This event will be open to participants from across the province of Ontario with an interest in exploring local contexts around anti-racism work and best practices,” said Damptey. “This event will be targeted specifically to the people from Hamilton who identify as Indigenous, black, people of colour, or as newcomers and immigrants.”
HCCI will also look into establishing an online reporting system for residents who experience hate crimes and hate incidents while allowing them to remain confidential and connecting those who experience hate with resources and supports.
Ward 3 Coun. Nrinder Nann applauded the announcement, although she said she hopes it includes discussion about specific strategies that different levels of government can use to tackle racism.
“We need to listen with empathy to really understand the nuanced experiences of our residents who are the victims of hate,” said Nann. “We need to have a very sophisticated response to the escalation of extremism in our country, in our city and in our province.”
She added that it’s a concern that there are ongoing instances of hate in Hamilton, including a recent incident involving anti-Semitic graffiti outside of a synagogue, as well as reports of an unknown man allegedly taking photos of worshippers at the Hamilton Downtown Mosque.
“That is a very orchestrated attempt to instill fear into the communities that make up Hamilton, that make our city so vibrant and so diverse,” said Nann.
Despite the recent incidents that have made the news, she said these occurrences are not unusual for marginalized residents.
“I would also challenge back that right now, there is a spotlight on these issues in the media. So for residents who do not experience racism, who do not experience hate, it may seem like there is an increase, but if we listen carefully to what residents have been saying over the course of the last 20 years, this kind of stuff happens on a day-to-day basis.”
During the press conference, Damptey pointed to his own recent example that has affected him personally.
He said he received three threats after speaking with members of the media about the protests of People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier’s speaking engagement at Mohawk College last month. One of those threats, Damptey said, occurred in-person at the HCCI office.
“It’s troubling to receiving those kinds of threats, but at the same time, that’s the kind of language and rhetoric that certain politicians have normalized. So then people feel that they can send an organization an email and use that kind of language.”
Damptey said he did report those incidents to Hamilton Police.
In an email to Global News, Hamilton Police spokesperson Jackie Penman confirmed that the report has been forwarded to the hate crime investigator.
When a reporter asked how he felt upon receiving those emails and encountering the individual who showed up at the office, Damptey said it was a feeling many Hamiltonians can relate to.
“That feeling of overt racism and dehumanization is something that you can’t describe,” said Damptey. “And that is the feeling that many residents experience. And so, it’s not about how I felt, I think it’s about how many residents across Hamilton feel. And that sense of dehumanization is what many residents want the city, the province and the country to respond to.”
The HCCI will be present for a public consultation at the end of the month, during which the city will be releasing the results of the Hamilton Anti-Racism Resource Centre Survey.
Councillor Nann said there were over 500 responses to the survey.
“I’m looking forward to my council colleagues getting a sense of the stories and experiences that are documented inside of those survey results,” she said. “So that we can acknowledge as representatives of government that each one of us has our ability to listen to different portions of our resident base. And when we receive data like this, if my day-to-day interactions aren’t with people who experience hate or experience racism, I think the survey is going to shed a lot of light.”
That event will be held at the David Braley Health Sciences Centre at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 29.