Hamilton police board will hold independent review of police handling of Pride violence

Hamilton's police services board will spend as much as half a million dollars to hire an outside lawyer to investigate how police officers responded to violence at a June Pride celebration.

The review will cost about $500K, and be finished by next June's Pride celebration

Several people were injured in a violent clash between protesters and counter-protesters at a Pride celebration in June. (Youtube/Scotsmanstuart)

Hamilton's police services board will spend as much as half a million dollars to hire lawyers to investigate and review how police officers responded to violence at a June Pride celebration.

The board voted unanimously Thursday to hire external counsel to do a review. That counsel would have expertise in policing issues, says member Fred Bennink. And that review would also be done before the next Pride celebration.

Asked for his reaction after the vote, Chief Eric Girt said he doesn't have one.

"This is the purview of the board and they've decided to do that investigation," he said. "I'm open, as you know. That's the board's decision."

The review comes after several people were injured at a Hamilton Pride celebration in Gage Park on June 15.

A group of protesters bearing large anti-LGBTQ signs, and a loudspeaker to broadcast those messages, crashed the event for the second year in a row. A group of self-described anarchists, many of them LGBTQ, donned pink masks and used a portable barrier to block the sign-bearers from the festival.

Violence broke out and several people were injured. Four people on the Pride supporting side were arrested — one for assault, two for violating court orders and one for violating parole conditions, although the parole board later ruled the latter person wasn't there. 

One person on the anti-Pride side, 27-year-old Christopher Vanderweide, faces assault charges and is out on bail.

Pride Hamilton and others criticized police response that day, saying officers took too long to intervene once violence broke out. Girt has said police would have deployed differently had they been invited to the event and not told to remain on the periphery.

This new review will be in addition to three complaints Girt is handling, and a citizen complaint filed to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD). The police board also struck a three-member committee of Bennink, Don MacVicar and retired colonel Geordie Elms to look at seeking some sort of external review.

The committee looked at two other options: asking the OIPRD to investigate, and hiring a retired judge. The OIPRD declined, and a retired judge would take too long, Bennink said. 

Mayor Fred Eisenberger agreed.

"We want it to be thorough, fair, equitable but also timely in terms of reporting back," he said. "I'm very supportive of this approach."

The committee is already talking to external lawyers about the review. It will have an upset limit of $600,000, but Bennink said it will likely only cost $500,000.

Local taxpayers will likely foot the bill, since the city covers most of the police and board budget.


Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She often tweets about Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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