Hamilton police spent most of Saturday evening on Locke Street investigating damage caused by a group of about 30 individuals, dressed in black clothing with their faces covered, who walked down the street carrying a banner that said, “We Are The Ungovernables.”
The group began setting off fireworks and smoke bombs, damaging vehicles and throwing eggs and rocks at store windows and homes in the neighbourhood.
Several storefronts had their windows smashed by the mob, and police say early estimates indicate about $100,000 in damage.
There were no injuries suffered by citizens or officers.
Insp. Paul Hamilton said police were initially called to a “mischief in progress” at Durand Park on Park Street South just before 10 p.m.
Two cops headed to the scene, where they found a large group dressed in black — a number of whom were wearing masks, he said.
“The officers approached the group and quickly had to retreat because they were being pelted with rocks,” Hamilton said.
While the officers called for backup, the group dispersed, but a “large nucleus” of the group continued on, heading west toward Locke St. South and Aberdeen Ave., he said.
Carmela Oliverio was sitting with friends inside the Mattson and Co. restaurant on the corner of Locke and Alexander streets when she saw fireworks going off.
“All of a sudden I see 25 to 30 people dressed like ninjas coming down the street with this huge banner saying, ‘We Are the Ungovernables’ and with fireworks going off left, right and centre.”
Oliverio said that when the mob noticed she and her group looking at them, one of the group came straight up to the window of the restaurant and “just wound up and started whipping things at us. There were eggs everywhere.”
Oliverio said the group continued on, throwing rocks until they turned off the street. “It was scary,” she said.
Hamilton said police had to gather a “large contingent” of about 30 officers to deal with the group, including from all three patrol divisions, the ACTION team, the emergency response unit and the K9 unit.
“Once we were able to amass our group, we deployed, but the group quickly dispersed,” Hamilton said, adding many discarded their clothing while fleeing.
Officers from the forensics unit remained on scene overnight gathering evidence, he said.
Police say it is too early to identify the group or what they were protesting, but noted there was an anarchist book fair being held at Westdale Secondary School this weekend.
“We are investigating to see if there’s any potential links to any people attending that,” he said.
In his 28 years with Hamilton police, Hamilton said he has never seen anything like this.
“I’d say it’s uncommon for any community in this province,” he noted.
No one was in the newly opened Donut Monster shop at the corner of Locke and Charlton when the group smashed the glass door to the business and put large holes in most of the windows of the shop. Large rocks could be seen lying inside the store.
Ruben Vanderkwaak, who owns the business with his wife Heidi, had just returned from their first vacation in three years Saturday morning.
Friends on the street contacted them about the damage that happened only two hours before the overnight baking shift arrived for work. “It’s pretty crazy,” he said. Although they have insurance the damage will definitely cut into their business.
“We can’t be open when it looks like this.”
At Bitten on Locke, co-owner Rebecca Tomasic was just locking up for the night when she saw the approaching mob.
She ran to her car parked across the street and locked herself inside. “It was terrifying,” a visibly shaken Tomasic said. She could only watch from her car as the group picked up a large rock and threw it through the window of her business.
The group dispersed and fled when police arrived.
Ward 1 Coun. Aidan Johnson called the act “shameful” and “profoundly unfair to the good merchants of Locke Street and their hard-working employees, many of whom are young people.”
He headed out to Locke Street Sunday morning to survey the damage and speak with shop owners, workers and neighbours, all of whom have lots of questions.
“It’s outrageous that these crimes have interfered with the business,” he said, noting he’s trying to get more information about what happened.
While there is a lot of “shock and sadness,” Johnson said he’s also inspired by the community support.
“It is inspiring to see so many Hamiltonians on Locke Street today showing solidarity with the neighbours and the merchants and the workers,” he said.
Police continue to investigate and are urging anyone with information to come forward.
Possible charges police are looking at include mischief and unlawful assembly, he said.
“We’re going to utilize every aspect of our investigative services, our divisional detectives — we’re going to rely on our intelligence unit to provide us with information,” Hamilton said. “We’re going to leave no stone unturned.”
The masks worn by some members of the group poses a “big challenge,” Hamilton said, but police are reviewing surveillance footage, social media and video taken by witnesses on scene.
Hamilton noted an act like this was not spontaneous, and asked anyone aware of the planning that went into it to call police.
“Somebody knows who’s responsible for this, and we would ask that anybody who does have information to come forward or to call Crime Stoppers,” he added.