Hamilton

6 questions to answer in a review of Hamilton police response to Pride violence

Hamilton's police services board will discuss today whether to ask for an independent investigation into police response to violence at Hamilton Pride, and there are still many questions to be answered by it.

The police board today will debate holding a review: What does the community want to learn?

Several people were injured at a Pride festival in Gage Park June 15. (Imgur)

Hamilton's police services board will discuss today whether to ask for an independent investigation into the police response to violence at Hamilton Pride, and there are still many questions to be answered by it.

The board meets at 1:00 p.m., when it will receive a half dozen letters and as many presentations about the response on June 15.

That's when a group of self-appointed street preachers with homophobic signs crashed a Pride festival in Gage Park, clashing with Pride goers and a group of counter-protesters in pink masks who used a large black barrier to block the group. Several people were injured.

Pride Hamilton has criticized the police response that day, saying officers were too slow to break up the conflict. Chief Eric Girt says officers would have been deployed differently if they hadn't been asked to stay along the perimeter of the park. 

The board will vote whether to look into an independent investigation.

Here are some questions raised in recent weeks about the police response that an investigation might address:

Why didn't police take action in the moment?

A recent letter signed by a group of Hamiltonians who are transgender asked why officers didn't do more to arrest people in the moment.

Multiple videos show punching and shoving, particularly on the part of the self-appointed street preachers who identify themselves online as Servanthoods. Police arrested and released one person in a Canadian Nationalist Party shirt on scene, but video posted by the protest group also shows officers making no further arrests and escorting them out of Gage Park.

This angered the more than 40 transgender residents who signed the letter. "You chose to let them go free," the letter says. "You did not defend us or our rights as Hamilton residents."

Police have said they needed more victims to come forward to proceed with investigations against the Pride protesters. So far, only one has been charged. Christopher Vanderweide, 27, faces two charges of assault with a weapon, and is in court today for a bail hearing.

Police also arrested three counter-protesters for violating court orders, and one of those is charged with assault.

What would different deployment look like?

Girt said Pride Hamilton asked uniformed police to stay on the perimeter of the festival. Officers were still in the park in plain clothes, he said, but otherwise, "we respected that wish." That request, however, did cause officers to "deploy differently," Girt said on CHML Bill Kelly's recent chief's townhall segment.

Not being in the park "changes the dynamics of how it works, but certainly it never entered into less resources or anything like that," Girt said.

A review would answer how the response would have been different if police had been patrolling the park. Girt touched on it only briefly in the Bill Kelly segment.

"We would have had people in the crowd pretty much the whole time," he said. "On the property. It's pretty simple."

Were there hard feelings?

Pride Hamilton asked Hamilton police not to have a recruitment booth at the festival. While some LGBTQ residents on social media have asked if this was considered a slight, ergo impacting the response that day, Girt says it wasn't a factor.

"I don't take offence and I never did," he said. "If you're not invited to do a recruiting booth, that's fine. Some events, not just this, we're asked and others we're not. I don't take any great umbrage to that." 

What was the issue at city hall?

Girt said on the CHML Bill Kelly show that police intelligence showed the bigger confrontation that day would be at a yellow vest protest at city hall. As a result, he said, it took time for officers to travel from one place to the other. 

What kind of communication did they have with Pride organizers ahead of time?

Versions differ here. Girt said police had a quick response, but Gage Park is a big place too, and police had to find the protest. "We're looking at a property which in that case is 85 acres, three million square feet," he said on the Bill Kelly show. "It's a difficult thing to pinpoint where exactly you're going to have a confrontation, and it's a very large property."

Kroetsch, meanwhile, says Pride organizers showed police exactly where the protest had happened in 2018, which police also attended, and where it was expected to happen again. When police called again to ask where specifically it would be, "they were told, down to the tree, where this would likely take place," he tweeted. "They were told it was escalating and that others would join in the 'protest.'"

Will we ever know?

If there is an independent investigation, it remains to be seen what that would look like, or whether the results would ever be public.

Whatever happens, Girt said, he would welcome a review.

"We have oversight bodies," he said.  "They have authority to review those things. Those things are in place for particular reasons. I look forward to the review, and the full review of that by those adjudicated bodies."

Corrections

  • The story has been amended to correct the time of the police board meeting.
    Jul 18, 2019 12:42 PM ET

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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