Hamilton

Mayor apologizes for 'pain and fear' felt by LGBTQ community after Pride violence

The apology from came after a meeting with members of the community organized by the mayor to improve relations between the city and its LGBTQ residents. Several people who were invited declined to attend, requesting an apology from the city and police first.

Several people invited to the meeting told Eisenberger they would not attend

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger hosted a meeting with members of the LGBTQ community Friday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Hamilton's mayor has apologized for the "fear and pain" felt by the LGBTQ community following violence at the city's Pride festival.

The apology came after a meeting with members of the community organized by the mayor in an attempt to improve relations between the city and its LGBTQ residents.

"I am sorry for the pain and fear that the Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ communities, their friends, and allies experienced at the Pride event and which many are still feeling," said Fred Eisenberger in a press release following the Friday afternoon gathering.

The mayor thanked those who attended and said the meeting was just one of the first steps toward building a better understanding with LGBTQ Hamiltonians.

"The meeting today was positive and constructive," Eisenberger added. "I listened, I learned, and I look forward to continued dialogue."

The release did not say who attended.

Head of LGBTQ committee told people not to attend

The meeting may have been positive, but attempts to organize the gathering got off to a rocky start, with several invitees saying they would not attend.

Cameron Kroetsch, who chairs council's LGBTQ advisory committee, urged everyone invited to "decline the invitation," adding the meeting had no agenda or shared list of invitees, and would be held on the mayor's terms.

In a series of tweets, he also called on police to apologize for the way they handled violent clashes between protesters and counter-protesters at Hamilton Pride on June 15. He also demanded the release Cedar Hopperton and the two other people charged for "defending Pride from homophobic and white supremacist extremists."

The physical confrontations during the festival broke out after a group of religious protesters arrived at Gage Park, with some wearing helmets and brandishing homophobic signs.

A group of counter-protesters with connections to The Tower, a local anarchist social space, wore black clothes and pink masks, and used a portable barrier to block the signs from view. There was shoving and other violence, and online video shows two anti-Pride protesters punching people in pink masks. Police say there were several injuries.

Police say they've arrested three pink-mask people for violating court orders, including Hopperton, who was out on parole after being sentenced last year on mischief charges for anti-gentrification vandalism on Locke Street, where a large group of masked people in all black damaged businesses and vehicles.

One of the counter-protesters has also been charged with assault.

So far only one anti-Pride protester, Christopher Vanderweide, has been arrested. The Kitchener man is charged with two counts of assault with a weapon.

Police say several people received minor injuries after an altercation at the Hamilton Pride festival on June 15. (Imgur)

Pride Hamilton, which Kroetsch vice chairs, said police took too long to shut down the religious protesters. Police Chief Eric Girt says enough officers were present, but they would have deployed differently if they were welcome at the event.

Graham Crawford, who was also invited to the mayor's meeting, said he would not attend. He wants Eisenberger, who chairs the police services board, to hold Girt accountable for police response to the violence at the festival

Friday, Eisenberger said in a tweet that there would be a report from the chief at the next police board meeting and board members would be able to ask questions.

City response 'antagonistic at worst'

Two representatives of the Hamilton YWCA have also made their refusal to attend the meeting public. Violetta Nikolskaya, who is also a member of the LGBTQ advisory committee, and Jyssika Russell said they did not attend for several reasons, including that no trans women or non binary people had been invited.

In a statement posted to Twitter, they also said the city's response to issues faced by the LGBTQ community has been "reactive at best, antagonistic at worst."

Eisenberger angered people with what some saw as silence in the days following the Pride violence. Tensions were further enflamed at a city council meeting last week, when the mayor ejected people from the gallery who were shouting at comments made by Coun. Sam Merulla.

A day of solidarity was announced Friday, with protesters connected to the Tower putting signs on Eisenberger's lawn saying he "doesn't care about queer people." Witnesses also report they were shouting, banging on his door and playing instruments.

A 33-year-old woman was arrested just six hours later. That same day, the mayor appointment of Deirdre Pike and Cole Gately as "special advisors" who will help find a way to repair the troubled relationship and combat hate in the city.

Mayor explains role of special advisors

Some questioned why special advisors were necessary as the city already has an LGBTQ advisory committee who could work with the mayor to strengthen the relationship.

In his statement Friday, the mayor said Pike and Gately volunteered for their roles and clarified the difference between what the assistance they will provide.

"They do not replace the city's LGBTQ advisory committee," he said, adding the committee is a "volunteer advisory committee that reports to the whole of council."

with files from Samantha Craggs

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