Chief says police would have deployed differently if they were welcome at Pride
Organizers say police took 'too long' to respond after a physical altercation began
Hamilton's police chief says officers would have been deployed differently during the city's Pride festival if they had been welcomed at the event.
Instead, out of desire to respect the wishes of organizers, they kept their distance at the perimeter until a physical confrontation broke out.
"We would have had people in the crowd pretty much the whole time," said Chief Eric Girt Wednesday, while speaking with CHML's Bill Kelly during a Chief's Townhall segment.
"On the property. It's pretty simple."
His comments defending his department's response to the altercation come after Pride organizers issued a statement Sunday saying much of the violence that happened during last weekend's event could have been prevented by police.
On Saturday a group of protesters led by "religious leaders" attempted to disrupt the Pride celebration, according to event organizers.
It's kind of a no-win situation where you're asked not to be there, and then when you're not there, how come you weren't there?-Eric Girt, Hamilton police chief
Police have also said people from the yellow vest movement, who have been regularly protesting at city hall, may have been involved.
Counter-protesters responded by erecting a large, black cloth barrier around the protesters.
A photographer in attendance told CBC News he witnessed multiple face-to-face confrontations with people shouting over one another, along with punching, grabbing and choking.
Police previously said they saw several people with minor injuries, but so far no victims have come forward.
Watch video posted to YouTube from Pride (warning: graphic language)
Following the event, Pride organizers issued a statement citing "longstanding issues between the 2SLGBTQIA+ community" and police.
They say only a "small number of officers" sitting in cruisers on the opposite side of Gage Park were on scene for the event.
"It took far too long for police to respond to the escalating situation created by the protestors," according to the statement.
During his radio interview, Girt said he believes enough officers were at the park given the history of protests at Hamilton Pride events and the possibility of violence breaking out.
But, he added, it's important to understand the circumstances surrounding what happened.
"Keeping mind the context here. We were not invited to the event," he explained. "We were asked not to be at the event and we remained on the perimeter."
The chief noted the service's request to have a recruitment booth at Pride was denied.
He also said the decision to keep officers to the outer edge of the park was intentional.
"We have to respect the requests, too. It's kind of a no-win situation where you're asked not to be there, and then when you're not there, how come you weren't there?"
Despite the lack of invitation, Girt said he made the decision to prepare for Pride by bringing extra officers on shift.
He pointed out the service's Public Order Unit, which helped respond to the confrontation at Pride, was monitoring a yellow vest protest at City Hall and it takes time to drive to a new location.
The chief described police's response as "very quick" and said more than 50 officers were on scene despite the large size of the park.
Protest happened at same place as last year
In a series of tweets Wednesday Cameron Kroetsch, chair of the city's LGBTQ Advisory Committee, challenged the chief's statements.
Kroetsch made it clear he decided to speak out not as a representative of Pride, the committee or any other group, but from his own personal experience.
He said the protest and violence happened in the same spot as it had the year before and police had been warned it seemed to be escalating.
He wrote he believes the police service's "deliberate choice to stand aside was not only an attempt to punish Pride but also to force an increased police presence at Pride 2020."
I'm not sure where to go from here, to be honest, when it comes to trying to work with either the <a href="https://twitter.com/cityofhamilton?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@cityofhamilton</a> or <a href="https://twitter.com/HamiltonPolice?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HamiltonPolice</a>. You've got to mean what you say and then put it into action. This is not the way to build trust or to repair the damage you've done. (7/7)—@CameronKroetsch
Kroestch ended his string of tweets saying the reaction from both the police and city was "not the way to build trust or to repair the damage you've done."
Police focused on building relationship
Similar sentiments were voiced during a community conversation for Hamilton's LGBTQ residents Tuesday evening.
The discussion became heated at points, with some demanding a deputy chief who attended in uniform leave, while others said police were present to listen and learn
In his conversation with Kelly, Girt said the service is going to continue trying to build a better connection with the city's LGBTQ community, even if it comes one relationship at a time.
"There's much work to be done. We're aware of that and we continue to reach out to those groups who do want to."