Hamilton

Chris Vanderweide, charged in Pride festival assault, pleads guilty

Christopher Vanderweide, who's known on social media as "helmet guy," has pleaded guilty to one count of assault with a weapon after violence at a 2019 Pride festival.

Vanderweide received a one-year suspended sentence that includes anger management counselling

Christopher Vanderweide has been charged with two counts of assault with a weapon following a physical confrontation at Hamilton's Pride Festival on June 15, 2019. (Rick Boswick/Facebook)

Christopher Vanderweide, who's known on social media as "helmet guy," has pleaded guilty to one count of assault with a weapon after violence at a 2019 Pride festival.

Vanderweide was initially charged with two counts of assault with a weapon following a fracas at Pride in the Park on June 15, 2019. The Kitchener man showed up at the festival just after noon with a religious group. Video shows him hitting two people in the face with a helmet.

Vanderweide, 29, entered the guilty plea in Hamilton court on Thursday. He will receive a one-year suspended sentence, which means he won't be incarcerated but has to abide by certain conditions. The conditions of that probationary period include attending anger management counselling.

"All of this definitely probably should have been avoided," said Vanderweide, who wore a face mask that said God taught me. "But now I'm a different man and would like to put this behind us and do something better."

The incident dates back to last summer, when organizers held a Pride in the Park event in Gage Park.

For the second year in a row, protesters showed up bearing a loud speaker and signs admonishing homosexuality. That year, however, a group dressed in black and wearing pink masks positioned themselves around the protesters with a large curtain blocking them from view.

Violence broke out and several people were injured. Vanderweide was the only person charged from the anti-Pride side.

Video showed Vanderweide in the brawl with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. One victim wouldn't cooperate with police, the court heard, and the other is unknown.

Police arrested Vanderweide, the court heard, after officers searched his Kitchener home and found the same shirt, vest, pants and shoes he wore in the video. 

Vanderweide, who has a prior criminal record, was released on bail last July. 

The calm proceedings Thursday, and the agreed statement of facts, were light on the intense emotions that have surrounded the Pride incident and the context leading to what the defence called a "melee."

The Hamilton Police Services board hired lawyer Scott Bergman to independently investigate police response that day. That response was "inadequate," Bergman wrote. HPS is implementing his recommendations now.

""A democratic society must recognize that the expression of abhorrent views is a necessary price to pay to enjoy our freedoms," Bergman wrote. "But there are limits. Enforceable limits."

Victim didn't cooperate

The report also quoted LGBTQ residents who rejected the idea that everyone opposing Vanderweide's group was an anarchist.

That distinction came up again in court on Thursday.

Laura Giordano, Vanderweide's lawyer, said her client's actions happened in the midst of a melee involving many people. She described the people with pink masks, who are associated with a local anarchist social space, as being members of antifa. The victim wouldn't cooperate with police.

"There are many members of antifa that were present, and the complainant was a member of antifa," she said. "He was not an LGBTQ+ attendee."

Giordano said that was part of the discussion with the Crown in reaching the agreement, although it's not clear how the lawyers know the victim's sexuality.

Circumstances are 'very troubling'

She also said the attention on the case means Vandweide will likely have trouble finding work.

Justice Joe Fiorucci said lack of cooperation from the victims made it a hard case to prosecute.

"The circumstances of the event are obviously very troubling," he said. The case "has received widespread public attention, and rightfully so."

Vanderweide's probation conditions also say that he can't go to Gage Park for a year, or contact his victims or another witness to the event. He also can't possess any weapons and must keep the peace.

Stanley Dudzic represented the Crown on Thursday. 

 

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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