Ontario, Canada – Last week, officials with the City of Hamilton legally ordered a local anarchist group to remove the anarchy symbol from the front of their headquarters, under the pretense of fighting against hate speech.
According to CBC News, city officials called the symbol “hate material similar to the swastika,” citing property damage caused by an extreme group of black-bloc anarchists during recent protests.
“The anarchist symbol is considered hate material by the City of Hamilton and Hamilton Police Services and as such, must be removed,” City spokesperson Marie Fitzpatrick told CBC News.
Ironically enough, the anarchist headquarters that is being asked to remove the symbol from their storefront was itself a victim of vandalism, and the symbol in question is painted onto a piece of plywood that is covering the shop’s broken window.
Surprisingly, the anarchists complied with the order not long after they were asked to remove the symbol from the storefront. Still, many experts feel that the local government is using the hate speech loophole to suppress the free speech of political dissent.
“Most anarchy groups in the past have been seen as anti-racist or anti-hate. They are pro-people and anti-government,” said Princewill Ogban, an anti-racism activist in Hamilton.
Even the local police are a bit confused about this new hate speech designation, saying that they see this as more of a “radical” symbol than one representing hate.
Const. Jerome Stewart of the Hamilton police said that this new order from the local government does not line up with his training.
“It does not meet the threshold of a hate crime. To the best of our knowledge, it is classified as an extreme left sign. So I don’t know where the direction came that Hamilton police have identified it as a hate crime sign, because as per our hate crime co-ordinator, that is not the case,” Stewart said.
Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger defended the order on Wednesday in a statement to the Hamilton Spectator.
“Certainly the anarchists that have locally presented themselves have done things that would be considered to be inappropriate, so if you tie the two of them together, I would say that’s a symbol of destruction and mayhem and causing a crisis to a particular area. Is that hateful? I think it is,” Eisenberger said
Unlike many flags and banners waved by different collectives, the anarchy symbol does not represent some monolithic movement or organization but instead represents a general idea that is a common ground for people from a wide variety of cultural and political backgrounds. Some anarchists are left-leaning or communist, others may be more right leaning and capitalist thinking, and there is a wide spectrum of anti-authoritarian philosophies that fall in between, and many of these groups are represented by the same anarchist symbol. The “black-bloc” anarchists who are famous for rioting actually represent a very small percentage of the people in the world who identify as anarchists.
This situation is a perfect example of the slippery slope that is created with hate speech laws, showing how easily these laws can be used to target people who are speaking out about injustices in the system. Although many of us agree that racism and bigotry is a horrible thing that should be discouraged, in a democracy policies are shaped by the whims of politicians, special interest groups, and the uninformed masses. With that being said, when it is time to actually define “hate speech” in a democracy, that definition will be determined by those aforementioned groups, which could have many unintended consequences, as we are seeing play out in Hamilton.
Think about how Alt-right groups call Black Lives Matter a “terrorist organization,” or how anti-gun activists use that exact same term when referencing the NRA. Racism and bigotry may be objectively wrong, but what classifies as “hate speech” is often subjective and determined by people who cannot be trusted, which is why it is so dangerous to trust the legal system to solve these types of social problems. As we have seen recently with the racist New York lawyer who lost his office space after a public outburst or the woman who became a meme after calling the police on a family having a picnic, the court of public opinion handles these types of social issues far better than the court of law.