Chief says he's open to independent review of police response to violence at Pride

Hamilton's police services board will vote Thursday whether to move toward an independent investigation of how police responded at the Pride festival, and the chief says he's open to it.
Hamilton police chief Eric Girt says he'd be happy to take part in a review of how police responded at Pride. The police board will discuss a possible review Thursday. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Hamilton's police services board will vote Thursday whether to move toward an independent investigation of how police responded at the Pride festival, and the chief says he's open to it.

Board members will decide whether to "explore the costs and benefits of an independent review of events leading up to and including June 15." If approved, that info will come back to the board, which will then vote whether to go ahead. The board will also receive a half dozen letters and hear from as many speakers. 

Chief Eric Girt said on the CHML Bill Kelly show's weekly town hall phone-in session Tuesday that he's open to an independent investigation. So far, he said, people have heard "one side of the story."

"I don't think that it's productive to have a trial or a review strictly in the media," he said. "We have oversight bodies. They have authority to review those things. Those things are in place for particular reasons. I look forward to the full review …by those adjudicated bodies."

June 15 was the day of a Hamilton Pride festival in Gage Park, when violence broke out surrounding a group that crashed the festival with a loud speaker and homophobic signs. Pride goers pushed back, and a group associated with a local anarchist social space wore pink masks and blocked the homophobic signs from view. Several people were injured during the incident.

Pride Hamilton has criticized police, saying they were too slow to react. Two Hamilton city councillors, Nrinder Nann and Maureen Wilson, have also asked for an independent review of how police responded.

While Girt previously told Kelly police would have "deployed differently" if they'd been invited to the event, he said Tuesday that didn't mean fewer resources. 

Pride Hamilton organizers asked police not to have a recruitment booth there, Girt said, and "that's fine.

"Some events, not just this, we're asked, and others we're not," he said. "I don't take great umbrage to that.

"With regard to respecting the wish of the organizers who did ask us not to be inside the perimeter, although we had plain clothes officers in there, we respected that wish. That changes the dynamics of how it works but certainly it never entered into less resources or anything like that."

Girt wouldn't get into details, but said Hamilton Police Service intelligence showed a major altercation was going to happen at city hall, so more officers were deployed there. In reality, Gage Park was the hot spot. 

'We're aware that our rights are precarious'

"It's not like we had neglected (Gage Park)," he said, "and we had other resources dedicated too."

Lauren Stephen, a downtown resident, is one of the people scheduled to speak Thursday. Stephen, who is gay, will give context around why the appearance of the religious extremists was so damaging.

Religious extremists around the world want to remove LGBTQ rights, including the right to marry, adopt, appear in public and even exist, he said in an interview. The protesters at Pride, he said, had "a fundamentally violent message."

"We're aware that our rights are precarious, and it's quite traumatizing for many community members to be exposed to that," he said.

"They violated our freedom to safety and community," he said. And the right of people to enjoy Pride "has to take precedence over the right to deny that freedom."


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