Police took 'far too long' to respond to 'violent' Pride protest: Pride Hamilton

Pride Hamilton says it believes a physical confrontation that broke out at the Hamilton Pride festival Saturday could have been prevented by police who took "far too long" to respond.

Police are investigating after several people suffered minor injuries

Police say several people received minor injuries after an altercation at the Hamilton Pride festival, but no victims or witnesses have come forward. (ihearthamilton/Twitter)

Pride Hamilton says it believes a physical confrontation that broke out at the Hamilton Pride festival Saturday could have been prevented by police who took "far too long" to respond.

Police are investigating the incident. No charges have been laid.

On Sunday police said they witnessed several people with minor injuries, but so far no victims have come forward.

Investigators have suggested people from the yellow vest movement, who have recently been protesting at city hall, may have been involved.

In a statement, the board of directors for Pride Hamilton says the event at Gage Park welcomed thousands and was the "largest and most successful Pride event in Hamilton's history," despite the protesters.

The statement says the protest was led by "religious leaders from the United States and Canada" who intentionally came to "hatefully" disrupt the event.

Pride Hamilton describes the confrontation as a "measurable escalation" from last year's protest.

"We personally witnessed what happened yesterday and are deeply troubled by the violent attacks carried out by the protestors that resulted in several members of the community being injured," it read. "The emotional and physical impact of this has been traumatic for many people who were at the site of the protest."

MP Randy Boissonnault, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's special adviser on LGBTQ issues, condemned the incident as "distressing and unacceptable" in a message over Twitter that was retweeted by the prime minister.

Grant Holt, a photographer who attended the event, previously told CBC News he witnessed a dozen people holding "rather religiously extremist signs" making their way toward the main festivities in the park.

They were intercepted by a second group of people who created a barrier between the protesters and the people participating in Pride, according to Holt.

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.

Holt said the confrontation started with shouting, but then escalated to punching, grabbing and choking.

"I saw some female [counter] protesters being punched right in the face," he added.

Watch video posted to YouTube from Pride (warning: graphic language)

In its statement, Pride Hamilton says representatives tried several times to meet with police before the event, but they weren't able to connect with the service until April, which didn't leave enough time to hold a town hall.

Police did reach out on the Thursday before the event, according to the organization.

Last year's Pride event in Hamilton was also disrupted by protesters and the organization says it made it clear to police that based on that history and what had been seen during Pride celebrations in other area cities it expected an "escalation" this year.

"Despite this, only a small number of officers were on hand on the opposite side of Gage Park (in parked vehicles)," reads the statement. "There have been long-standing issues between the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and Hamilton Police Services that remain unresolved."

Hamilton police Deputy Chief Frank Bergen said the service did have a plan in place for Pride that included officers on scene before, during and after the event.

At one point up to 50 officers were present, he added, describing the staffing as an "appropriate response."

One person was arrested during the altercation, according to Bergen, but they were released because the victim did not work with police and left the area.

"This is an unfortunate event that needs resolution and that should be arrest in some cases," he said.

On Sunday he told CBC News he was 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.

Pride a 'missed opportunity' for police

Mayor Fred Eisenberger took to Twitter following the protest, saying he was "disappointed" by what had happened and that "hate speech and acts of violence have no place in the City of Hamilton."

He added the city will work with police and community members to take steps to ensure nothing similar can happen again.

Bergen said police are extending an open invitation to the Pride event organizers to sit down with Det. Paul Corrigan from the Hate Crimes Unit and other members of the service to talk their relationship with the service and what happened.

Pride Hamilton says it believes what happened at its event this weekend was a missed opportunity for police to show they were there to "protect and act in solidarity with the community."

It also claims the plan its representatives discussed with the service on Thursday was not put in place and that it took "far too long for police to respond to the escalating situation created by the protestors."

The organization is planning a town hall for later this summer in advance of next year's Pride festival.

"We sincerely hope that the City of Hamilton and HPS take this seriously and will work with us to ensure that this hateful activity is not permitted at Pride."

with files from Adam Carter