Hamilton city councillor got racist, threatening messages after deadly U.S. Capitol riot

A city councillor in southern Ontario says her office received two racist, threatening voice messages from a Hamilton man days after the attack at the U.S. Capitol that killed five people.

Hamilton city councillor Nrinder Nann (Ward 3) revealed details of the hateful messages during a council meeting on Wednesday  — the same day Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were sworn in as U.S. President and Vice President respectively.

“We can’t even celebrate moments of joy,” Nann said emotionally in a phone interview during her lunch break.

Nann, the only woman of colour on council, told members the voicemail from a “disgruntled white resident” came days after pro-Trump extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol during a chaotic protest aimed at thwarting a peaceful transfer of power to Biden. 

The transcripts of the two messages from Jan. 10, shared with CBC News, show the caller said he would:

  • Buy a a machete, handcuffs, and zip ties.
  • Summon hate groups like the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and Sons of Odin.
  • Use a container to arrest Black people, who he labelled as criminals.

“He went on to say what happened in the States is going to happen here,” Nann told city council. 

“I share this today to anyone in our city who is willfully ignorant to how deep hate runs in our city [and] in our country, founded on colonialism.”

It comes as the city tries to shake off a reputation for hatred. Hamilton had the highest rate of hate crimes in Canada during 2018. 

Councillor wants deeper police investigation 

Nann said she reported the threat to police roughly a week ago. She said they acted swiftly and determined there was no threat.

Jackie Penman, spokesperson with the Hamilton Police Service, confirmed officers responded to Nann’s report on Monday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m.

“Investigators immediately followed up and interviewed the individual responsible. The individual indicated they had made a bad decision based on their mental state at the time,” she wrote in an email.

“Hamilton Police continue to investigate and the report has been referred to COAST and Hate Crime for follow up.”

Nann says while officers were diligent, she has questions about how they determined the man wasn’t a threat and if he has ties to the hate groups he named.

“This is something that needs a deeper investigation to take a look at what’s the truth of the matter in terms of the presence of extremist organizations in our city, and what is the level of threat, and who should know that information. Where do we go to get accurate intel on this?” she said.

“That’s information Hamiltonians deserve to know and if that work isn’t being done then we need to know that too … there are additional funds and resources available for that work to be carried out.”

An explosion caused by a police munition is seen while a throng of people, largely supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump, descended on the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Tina Fetner, a McMaster University sociologist who specializes in right wing activism, says while researchers and organizations look into hate groups, and police services investigate them, there “is not a database or official kind of hate-tracking” in Canada for the public.

“Because that’s not visible to us, it creates a real disconnect in communication between somebody who reports what sounds like a real threat to the police and the police saying it’s not [a threat]. You need a level of trust there,” she said.

“The Hamilton police department and their dealing with hate groups over the last year or so, I think that level of trust has worn away and so I’m not surprised at all councillor Nann is concerned.”

Nann said her office knows the resident who sent the voicemail. She said he has never said anything like this to her office before. She informed him his message was being reported to the police and offered him links for any support he needed.

“He did reply to that and indicated that he apologized, he felt sorry, that he doesn’t want to cause any harm to anyone, and he would cease communication with the office,” Nann said.

After she told police about the racist messages, Nann also says she was in touch with city security.

Mayor denounces threat 

Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who previously apologized after joking about the U.S. Capitol attack, was the only person to respond to Nann during the council meeting.

He said Nann has his and city council’s support.

“I’m saddened to hear, but not surprised, these kind of hate things have been happening in our community. I’ve been a victim of it myself, as many of us have, and it’s a sad, sad consequence of the elevation we’ve seen in the United States and certainly elements of that are coming here,” the mayor said.

Eisenberger also said racism in Canada is more subdued than it is in America, but that it is “on the rise.”

Nann said she doesn’t agree with his characterizations of racism and says it has always been in the city and the country.

The mayor also said that standing against violent, anti-Black threats is the city’s duty. 

“When good people remain silent, we end up with what we just witnessed in the United States. We can’t have that. Sorry to hear it has landed on you in this very significant way … as you rightfully point out, just making a report quietly and unassumingly isn’t enough,” he said.

“If we need to name and shame, we should do that because there’s no room for this kind of intolerance, hate, attack.”

Nann said she sincerely believes the mayor supports her. She also said she thinks the same of her fellow councillors.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


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