Major Ontario union calls on Hamilton police to stop ‘racist violence’ against housing activists

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Published December 3, 2021 at 6:54 pm

The Hamilton housing activists who are facing charges after opposing encampment teardowns have gained a valuable supporter.

Friday, the Canadian Union of Public Employees — Ontario called on Hamilton Police Service to drop charges against all six people who were arrested at J.C. Beemer Park on Nov. 24 and at Hamilton Central Police Station on Nov. 26. Five of the six activists are Black, including Rowa Mohamad, a 24-year-old woman whose injuries have led to the Ontario Special Investigations Unit opening an inquiry.

A widely circulated image shows that a male HPS officer put his knee on Mohamad’s head and neck on the sidewalk outside of Central station. The hold was similar to the one then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin used when he killed George Floyd in May 2020.

Leaders in Hamilton’s Black community also believe there should be a judicial inquiry into HPS officers’ conduct. They have also called for an end to encampment teardowns.

“Today, CUPE Ontario’s 280,000 members join with others in saying that the charges must be dropped immediately,” CUPE Ontario’s statement in part. “The racist police violence against Black youth must never be repeated. That we condemn the actions taken to arrest members of HESN (Hamilton Encampment Support Network). And that violent displacements of our unhoused community members must never be an option.

“We also back up our words with a contribution. CUPE Ontario’s Executive Board has proudly sent a significant contribution to the legal defence fund for the members of HESN and we emphatically encourage others who oppose racist police violence to contribute as well.”

The GoFundMe page for a campaign created to help the six activists with pending legal expenses shows CUPE Local 4207 recently donated a total of $750. At this writing, the campaign has $34,629 in donations from 546 donors.

Encampment teardowns in Hamilton are carried by city workers, with support from HPS officers. Unhoused people are offered temporary shelter, but the HESN has contended that this is ins ufficient.

The statement from CUPE Ontario said that City of Hamilton workers can refuse an work assignment if they believe it is unsafe.

“We remind front-line workers who find themselves directed by their employer to take part in removals of our unhoused neighbours that they have the right to refuse work that endangers their life and someone else’s. And we remind front-line workers and everyone that forcibly separating people from their homes undeniably endangers lives.”

Locally, the YWCA, Sexual Assault Centre Hamilton Area (SACHA), Afro Caribbean Faculty Association of McMaster (ACFAM), AIDS Network, Hamilton Artists Inc., Hamilton 350, Equity Network Dundas, Wesley Urban Ministries and Hamilton District Labour Council are also calling for the charges to be dropped.

The Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion also launched a petition on Friday afternoon, reiterating the calls for the charges to be dropped, for encampment evictions to end and for a judicial inquiry to be called. It has garnered about 200 signatures.

 

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