Hamilton

Hamilton police response to Pride violence was 'inadequate,' says independent review

The report says officers reacted appropriately once the violence happened, but that the lack of police preparation "failed to protect" Pride attendees.

The report says the lack of police preparation 'failed to protect' Pride attendees

Several people were injured in an altercation at the Hamilton Pride festival on June 15, 2019. (Imgur)

A new independent report says the police response to violence at a 2019 Hamilton Pride festival was "inadequate" and the lack of police preparation meant the service "failed to protect" festival attendees.

The report also says that comments made by Chief Eric Girt after the event damaged the relationship with the LGBTQ community, and that the service owes the community an apology.

Toronto lawyer Scott Bergman says in a new report that police could have anticipated "homophobes, white supremacists and organized agitators" would attend to disrupt the event, but they didn't. 

"As a result, the police response was inadequate — before, during and after the event," he wrote in the report, which the HPS board will discuss on Thursday. "This added to the distrust of police in some circles."

"The HPS's inadequate preparation for Pride 2019 resulted in a failure to protect the public and Pride attendees." 

Bergman's report found that four police officers assigned to Pride 2019 had no prior communication with the festival organizers, or have their contact information. They had no map of the event, and didn't know where the permitted areas were.

The Operational Plan— prepared just two days before the event — "did not identify the fact that the attendance of agitators at the event was likely to cause a disturbance of the peace."

However, the report says officers reacted appropriately once the violence happened.

"Once the four officers arrived at the confrontation, they responded appropriately to a chaotic and volatile situation," it says.

"It was not safe to break up the confrontation without more resources. They did not directly witness any criminal conduct and had to wait for backup."

Toronto lawyer Scott Bergman did the independent investigation of Hamilton Police Service. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

HPS didn't comment on Monday, saying instead that it would answer media questions after the June 11 board meeting. 

Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who also chairs the board, said in a statement that he'll review the report before commenting.

"I look forward to Mr. Bergman's presentation to the Hamilton Police Service board on Thursday, June 11, 2020," he said in a statement. "Out of respect to Mr. Bergman, I will reserve my comments until his presentation is complete."

The Hamilton Police Services (HPS) hired Bergman last November to do an independent review of how officers responded at Pride. The report has a maximum cost of $600,000.

Bergman conducted months of interviews and consultation with police and the LGBTQ community. The review looked at, among other issues, whether police were slow to respond to the Pride violence, whether they stood back and watched as violence happened, and whether a culture in Hamilton Police Service (HPS) contributed to that.

The event dates back to June 15, 2019, when Pride Hamilton held a festival at Gage Park. A religious group arrived with homophobic signs, accompanied by people associated with the yellow vest group that had been at city hall every weekend. They were met with counter protesters who wore pink masks and used a large black curtain to shield the protesters from the view of the festival.

Violence broke out and several people were injured. One protester was arrested, three counter-protesters were charged and one person was arrested who was later found to not be at the festival.

Report to OIPRD had different findings

Bergman's report is a stark contrast to a police report to the Office Of Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) last November. That report, compiled by an HPS staff sergeant, said police responded properly to the festival, both in planning and execution, and the OIPRD took no further action.

"This investigation has discovered that the policies and procedures were followed in this instance and that there were no identified issues," said the report, signed by Det. Sgt. Gary Heron.

In his report, Bergman says the relationship between police and the LGBTQ community is "damaged," particularly after comments by Chief Eric Girt after the Pride incident. 

Girt said, for example, that police weren't invited to the event and remained on the perimeter, resulting in a "no-win situation." If police had been invited to the event, he said at one point, officers might have deployed differently.

Bergman's report says whether invited to Pride or not, police "had an overriding obligation to police the event, protect the public and maintain order."

Counter-protest wasn't just anarchists 

"Public comments from the chief of police and from the HPS after Pride 2019 demonstrated a lack of concern for the LGBTQIA+ communities," Bergman wrote. "The responses failed to demonstrate an understanding of what community members had experienced at Pride 2019."

Cameron Kroetsch, a Pride Hamilton board member, says the report is important because it addressed what happened before, during and after the festival, including Girt's comments. But "there are a lot of systemic issues at play here that apologies aren't going to address."

"They spent $600,000 of taxpayers' money, and hired folks who aren't part of the Hamilton community, to say what those communities have been saying for years," he said. 

Some other findings:

  • Bergman says within the service, homophobic jokes and comments aren't tolerated. However, interviews revealed that not all LGBTQ officers feel the same way about the police service. While "it is clear that while there has been some movement towards greater inclusivity over the past 20 years, responding officers felt that police services continue to be conservative, 'straight' male dominated institutions."
  • HPS, he says, should "carefully consider undertaking a diversity audit or organizational culture review."
  • HPS should "unequivocally apologize to the community for its inadequate planning."
  • HPS should have more "in-depth seminars and hands-on training for officers" on two-spirit and LGBTQ issues."
  • The report says many HPS officers feel legitimate social protest has been hijacked by local anarchists. Some officers interviewed, Bergman says, thought anarchists were the only people counter-protesting that day. "This is completely inaccurate. Anarchists from The Tower were by no means the only Pride defenders that day. Many Pride attendees who have no affiliation with The Tower were present and confronted the agitators with colourful signs containing messages of love and acceptance."
  • The report says people in the LGBTQ community had differing views of the pink mask contingent that day. Some were grateful, others felt it escalated tensions. "Many in the community feel that this was unnecessary and that Pride attendees and the Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ communities are more than capable of defending Pride celebrations from anyone wanting to cause disruption."
  • Bergman says the Pride protester group was different than in 2018. "There was an increased number of agitators and many were from the yellow vest movement and from more militant, hateful groups."
  • The operational plan, Bergman said, didn't include a map of Gage Park. Like the report to the OIPRD, there are differing reports as to whether organizer Cameron Kroetsch directed police to one during a phone conversation. But Pride Hamilton's application to the special events advisory team (SEAT), a multi-agency committee that includes police, did include a map. The officers drawing up the operational plan should have had access to the SEAT application, the report says.
  • Bergman says HPS appointing Det.-Const. Rebecca Moran in February as an LGBTQ liaison officer is a good first step, but worries that it's not a fully-funded, union-recognized position. He recommends looking at expanding the role to make it a full-time, sergeant-level position.
  • HPS should consult with the community to discuss how and when to revive the LGBTQ liaison committee.

 

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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