'Hateful' protest at Hamilton Pride event condemned
Police are investigating, but no charges have been laid
Supporters of Hamilton's LGBTQ community are denouncing the actions of "vitriolic" protesters after a physical confrontation broke out between groups at the Hamilton Pride festival at Gage Park on Saturday.
Police say they are now investigating the incident, which resulted in minor injuries. No charges have been laid.
Police suggested people from the yellow vest movement, who have recently been protesting at city hall, may have been involved.
Photographer Grant Holt arrived at Gage Park around 1:20 p.m. He says he saw about a dozen people holding "rather religiously extremist signs."
That group was making its way toward the larger festivities in the park when a second group of people stepped forward and created a "visual and auditory barrier" between the protesters and the people participating in Pride, Holt said.
Video from the scene shows a group of people in pink masks erecting a large, black curtain around the protesters and their signs. Police say the incident happened in the middle of the park, away from the main festivities.
"It started off relatively calm and peaceful," Holt said. "But of course, any situation like this, when things are important and connected to people's very being, things did break out into violence."
The free speech argument in defence of white nationalism is going to result in serious community injury.- Matthew Green, NDP candidate
There were a lot of face-to-face confrontations with people shouting over one another, he said, which escalated to punching, grabbing and choking.
"I saw some female protesters being punched right in the face," Holt said.
"It's hard to say who started what, but from my experience, it was definitely more on the original protesters' [with the signs] side, and the counter protesters more [acted] in self defence and protection."
Cameron Kroetsch, secretary treasurer with Pride Hamilton, said he was not in a position to comment about the incident until the Pride Hamilton board meets to discuss what happened.
Police now investigating
Matthew Green, a former Hamilton city councillor and current federal NDP candidate, said he saw the altercation break out because of "far-right evangelicals" who were there "just there to sucker-punch people."
"I really have to commend the residents who came with the barrier," he said, adding these people were only trying to block "vitriolic and hateful" posters.
Protesters leaving Gage Park !!<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HamOnt?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HamOnt</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Pride?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Pride</a> !! <a href="https://twitter.com/TheSpec?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TheSpec</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/CHCHNews?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CHCHNews</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/dweeks_CHCHnews?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@dweeks_CHCHnews</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/CBCHamilton?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CBCHamilton</a> <a href="https://t.co/zVnzG0mLAp">pic.twitter.com/zVnzG0mLAp</a>—@scotsmanstuart
Hamilton police Deputy Chief Frank Bergen told CBC News that no one has yet come forward with a "true complaint," but police are currently investigating. He said no one had been charged as of Sunday afternoon.
"We hope to learn more about what transpired," he said.
Bergen also said he is aware that photos and video of the alleged perpetrators have been widely circulated on social media.
"We'll continue to look at it," he said.
Watch video posted to YouTube from Pride (warning: graphic language)
Police say they believe the protest at Gage Park is linked to groups of people involved in the yellow vest movement, who have been clashing with anti-fascist protesters outside city hall stretching back to the start of the year.
These protests have appeared across the country. Yellow vesters protest what the group calls "mass immigration," as well as the federal carbon tax and the United Nations migration pact. A January rally in front of city hall included Paul Fromm, a known white supremacist.
Bergen said police believe some of the yellow vest group left the protest at city hall Saturday and went to Gage Park to protest at Pride.
"We believe at some point [the groups] became intertwined," he said.
Questions about police conduct
Holt also questioned the way police handled the situation Saturday.
"When the police did arrive, it was only a couple at the time. Violence did occur even then, and I noticed the police didn't get involved, for whatever reason," he said.
"Once over a dozen officers arrived, then they were a lot more hands-on and trying to separate the groups."
Blocking out a disgusting display of hatred at <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/hamont?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#hamont</a> Pride. Love is louder always. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/pride?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#pride</a> <a href="https://t.co/i5iVI2aEmE">pic.twitter.com/i5iVI2aEmE</a>—@ihearthamilton
Bergen said he is aware of social media posts from people who attended Pride questioning how police handled the situation. He said Hamilton police are "committed to public safety," and those comments are "not reflective" how police interact with the LGBTQ community.
He would not say if the service's handling of the event is being investigated.
"At this particular point, it's just people having comments, so that's why we think it's important that the people from the Pride committee meet with us as soon as possible to have a more fulsome discussion about what unfolded at Gage Park on Saturday."
Green said he is calling on both the chief of police and the mayor to actually enforce the city's "zero tolerance" policy for aggression and violence in public spaces.
"The fact that we're allowing the zero tolerance policy to be skirted this way only allows for escalating violence," he said. "We are actually harder on hockey moms and dads than we are on these bigots."
"The free speech argument in defence of white nationalism is going to result in serious community injury."