Hamilton Pride Defender Update: Some charges withdrawn, others going to trial

An update on the situation of people facing charges for defending Hamilton Pride from a far-right homophobic attack. From the Pride Defender Solidarity Committee, via North Shore Counter Info. The charges against the two defendants that were expected to be withdrawn have been

Submitted by R Totale on February 27, 2021

It has been nearly two years since Hamilton Pride was attacked by white supremacists, homophobes and fundamentalist Christians. Nearly two years have also passed since a group of determined people stood their ground and drove the attackers out of the park. In the aftermath of that bloody event, the Hamilton Police showed their true colours by dedicating their efforts to tracking down and identifying Pride Defenders, while letting all but one of the attackers off the hook (despite having clear video evidence at their disposal). Of the six Pride Defenders initially charged, three of those people are still facing charges today.

Two of those three people have recently accepted a peace bond that will see their charges effectively withdrawn. The peace bonds will come with one year of probationary conditions, which is essentially the same punishment doled out to Chris Vandeweide who was caught on film committing multiple brutal assaults both at Pride, and again the following weekend in Toronto.

The last of the Pride Defenders facing charges is Barry, a respected Hamilton union organizer who attended Pride as an ally and is alleged to have stood up for his friends when he saw them being attacked. Barry is being charged with “assaulting” an extremist preacher named Phillip Ness-Thomas who is is part of a group called the ServantHOODS that preaches homophobia and misogyny at public gatherings, specifically targeting Pride events in recent years. Ness-Thomas showed up to the park that day with a group carrying 10-foot scripture signs decrying the sins of homosexuality, accompanied by goons like Chris Vandeweide who wore body armour. Needless to say, Ness-Thomas showed up at Pride as an agitator and aggressor.

Perhaps one of the most frustrating realities of Barry’s charges is found in the pages of the Hamilton City Council’s own $600,000 independent inquiry into the events at Pride, published in 2020. The report concluded – with no uncertainty – that the entirety of the violence was the fault of right wing agitators, that pride defenders were a diverse group of people who stood up for themselves and their community, and that the Hamilton Police bungled nearly every aspect of this incident. The report – written by a respected lawyer over the course of many months – interviewed 42 community members and 24 cops, concluding: “Standing up to and countering hateful groups by attempting to drown out their message is not unlawful. In fact, many Pride attendees should be commended for standing up for a more inclusive, diverse and caring community. To the extent that those Hamiltonians feel that the HPS conveyed a message that Pride attendees or Pride Defenders are partly to blame for the violence and hate that day, this is incorrect.”
Barry did nothing wrong that day in the park. He showed up to stand with the queer community in Hamilton against violence from a group of delusional people who deliberately came there from across the country to scream at queer families and engage in physical confrontation. The possibility that these charges could ever see the inside of a court room is enraging.

The Pride Defenders Solidarity Committee is calling for Barry’s charges to be dropped, and are asking the Hamilton community and LGBTQ2S+ people from around the world to show their support for this cause in whatever ways you can. We only have a short time until his trial and we want to deliver a loud and clear message to the Crown Attorney. Please keep an eye on our social media pages for updates, help share our posts widely, and start brainstorming ways to show your support. Though Hamilton Pride 2019 was a long time ago, this isn’t over until every Pride Defender walks free.

From CUPE 3906:

Drop all charges and while we’re at it, Defund HPS. Our Executive stands firmly in solidarity with Pride Defenders and anarchists, and we’re donating $500 to their legal fund. Read our distilled thoughts here!

Today we call attention to the on-going persecution of our city’s LGBTQ2SI and anarchist community by Hamilton Police following the terrible events of Pride 2019, in which homophobic and white supremacist aggression was facilitated through deliberate police inaction. A year and a half later, members of the pride community continue to navigate unjust legal charges for protecting their celebrations from targeted violence. Amongst these members is Barry Conway, a long-time labour activist facing trial in March 2021. The CUPE 3906 Executive stands in solidarity with Barry and all Pride comrades in their fight against policing, white supremacist and right-wing organizing in Hamilton.

There are deep-rooted connections between this instance of persecution and the state-led police violence against 1492 Land Back Lane, the systematically racist operations of Hamilton Police Service, and the criminalization of community members who are unsheltered or who experience economic violence. As social movement unionists we recognize how policing serves the interests of capital and the ruling class through the above-mentioned harms, and we condemn the distinct role of police in breaking strikes, sabotaging worker organizing and attempting to repress collective power. With this understanding, we recognize our common interest in supporting Pride Defenders and the imperative to work toward dismantling systems of oppression that are upheld by hate groups in Hamilton and the city’s Police Service.