Every time Amie Archibald-Varley sees a Confederate flag waving in the wind at a rural Hamilton home in her neighborhood, she says she feels fear and confusion.
“I have young kids…they’re also racialized…it’s concerning because it’s like ‘Are my kids going to face this type of hate? Are my kids going to be called the n-word or will have to live that type of fear?'” Archibald-Varley, who is Jamaican-Canadian, told CBC Hamilton.
Archibald-Varley said she and her family lived minutes from the house.
The Confederate battle flag was flown during the American Civil War, notoriously by General Robert E. Lee’s army which fought to preserve slavery, and has become synonymous with breakaway states.
The symbol was later resurrected during the civil rights movement by those who opposed equal rights for black people, and has since been associated with white supremacist groups.
Last summer, Hamilton city councilors voted to ban the Nazi flag and swastika from city property, classifying them as symbols of hate. Police then acknowledged that it was not a criminal offense to fly a Confederate flag on one’s own property. It would only be considered a crime if an investigation found that the placement of the flag was motivated by hate.
Archibald-Varley says she originally tweeted about the flag in February, but shared another tweet on Sunday that caught the attention of the Canadian-Anti Hate Network (CAHN), Hamilton Area Anti-Racism Coalition (HAARC ) and the Hamilton Center For Civic Inclusion (HCCI). ).
“Why would anyone think that’s okay?” she asked.
The city is struggling with a reputation for hate. Statistics Canada data shows it had the highest rate of hate crimes per capita in the country in 2019, 2018, 2016 and 2014.
Resident says he doesn’t care about concerns
CBC Hamilton visited Binbrook’s home, southeast of central Hamilton, on Tuesday afternoon. The flag was visible in front.
The person who answered the door, who did not want to be named, said they ‘didn’t care what other people think’ and said they did not think the flag was racist.
They also said they had flown the flag for more than two years, that they had not received any previous complaints, and that other residents were flying the flag.
“I’m stealing this for freedom, it’s my choice. I live in a free country,” the resident said.
“I’m an individual and I have a right…it’s not offensive, it’s whatever you choose to see…if I could afford General Lee, I’d park him in the driveway.”
CAHN, HAARC and HCCI said the flag does not represent freedom and is not ambiguous – it is clearly racist.
“It celebrates slavery and the murder of a black person,” CAHN Deputy Director Elizabeth Simons said.
“That it’s framed in some sort of free-speech argument doesn’t surprise us…it’s unfortunate the owner feels that way.”
HAARC executive director Lyndon George said the situation is a stark reminder that there is still work to be done to tackle racism.
“There is clearly a disconnect with the lived experiences of those who are deeply affected by these flags and symbols,” he said.
“It’s sickening to see it in a place where you live.”
Police say they can’t take it off
Hamilton Police spokesperson Jackie Penman said the service saw the post on social media, prompting a visit to the home.
The resident told CBC that Hamilton police came Monday night. Penman said police met with the owner to educate him about the impact on the community.
“Unfortunately, there is currently no legislation that would provide grounds for police to lay charges or compel the owner to remove the flag,” Penman said.
“The threshold would be the intention to commit a criminal offense such as the willful promotion of hatred or the public incitement to hatred for example.”
Simons said CAHN argues the flag breaks the law, but police departments are too lax in their interpretation of the law.
George and HCCI executive director Kojo Damptey said the situation shows hate symbol laws are not tough enough.
“First, we should change the criminal code. Second, there should be provincial laws that legislate the standard definition of what a hate crime is, and at the municipal level, municipalities should ensure in their bylaws that no hate symbols should be displayed on city property and private property,” Damptey said.
“Politicians must act”
Archibald-Varley said that despite tagging Mayor Fred Eisenberger and Congresswoman Donna Skelly in her tweets about the flag, she received no response from any politician.
CBC Hamilton has contacted Skelly and the mayor for comment.
The city’s social media account responded to one of Archibald-Varley’s tweets asking him to report the incident to the police. She said the response was insufficient.
Archibald-Varley said elected officials should speak out against the waving flag at home.
“Maybe if we don’t have leaders who are willing to talk about this hate, we should have other people who are willing to.” she says.
“There are a lot of racialized people here and we feel alone. We don’t feel heard and I think it’s time for people to stand up against that.”
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to stories of success within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.