Photo C/O Will Erskine

By Trisha Gregorio, Contributor

On June 15, 2019, the annual Hamilton Pride event was disrupted by groups of homophobic and white supremacist protesters, resulting in a violent confrontation between them and some of the Pride attendees. The police had not been invited to the event due to the fraught history between them and the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, and complaints that the Hamilton Police Services took too long to respond to the Pride altercation soon followed.

Nearly a year later, Scott Bergman — a lawyer with the Toronto firm Cooper, Sandler, Shime and Bergman — has published an independent review into the Pride 2019 incident. The firm was hired by the Hamilton Police Services last fall after the police services board voted unanimously for an examination of police conduct in the Pride 2019 event.

Bergman’s 125-page review looks at whether the HPS was slow to respond to the violence at Pride or whether they deliberately did not get involved as the violence continued. It brings into question the HPS’ actions during the Pride celebration, citing the police’s lack of preparation as the foundation for their failure to adequately respond to the public’s safety needs.

“[The] activities could reasonably have been anticipated by the police, but they weren’t. As a result, the police response was inadequate — before, during and after the event,” wrote Bergman.

“[The] activities could reasonably have been anticipated by the police, but they weren’t. As a result, the police response was inadequate — before, during and after the event,” wrote Bergman.

According to the review, the four police officers assigned to Pride 2019 did not consult with the organizers regarding the event. Furthermore, they did not have an operational plan until two days before the event, only for that plan to be found lacking details and failing to take into account the potential presence of agitators or any legal mechanisms that might be relevant.

These findings are in contrast to a similar report conducted by an HPS staff sergeant and submitted to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director. According to CBC, the OIPRD report claims that the police had a proper operational plan in place and that they did not stand to watch the violence unfurl without intervening.

“This investigation has discovered that the policies and procedures were followed in this instance and that there were no identified issues,” read the 110-page report, which was signed by Det. Sgt. Gary Heron.

From page 81 of the report, "There was no effective communication between 9-1-1 dispatchers and officers on the ground….

Posted by Pride Hamilton on Sunday, June 21, 2020

 

In Bergman’s report, on the other hand, he highlights comments made by Police Chief Eric Girt four days after the Pride incident, which he believes demonstrated a lack of understanding of what  2SLGBTQIA+ Hamiltonians were feeling in response to the violence at the Pride 2019 event.

“We were not invited to the event. We were asked not to be at the event and we remained on the perimeter. We have to respect the requests, too. It’s kind of a no-win situation where you’re asked not to be there, and then when you’re not there, how come you weren’t there?” Girt had said in a local radio show.

Bergman’s review emphasizes the damage that has been done to the relationship between the HPS and the Hamilton 2SLGBTQIA+ community. He is now calling for several key actions to help repair this damaged relationship; among many others, this includes an apology from the HPS, more detailed operational plans for the annual Pride events to come and careful consideration of a potential diversity audit. He also calls for better communication between the police and the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, which would entail experiential training and public acknowledgement of the HPS’ intent to build mutual trust.

At the same time, some members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community feel this is not enough.

“[Y]ou didn’t need to spend [$600,000] to find out the things the community was saying. You didn’t need two lawyers outside the Hamilton community and outside of two-spirit and LGBTQIA+ communities to come into Hamilton and then write down everything that community said. The community already said that everywhere” said Cameron Kroetsch, a Pride Hamilton board member. “This the process for this very austere board as part of a very broken police system to try and understand what happened at an event they didn’t attend.”

Youth programs such as speqtrum Hamilton have also expressed their dissatisfaction that they will not be able to afford an 2SLGBTQIA+ liaison officer — one of the recommendations to the HPS presented by Bergman’s report.

On June 11, the organization tweeted, “The cost of a [full-time] LGBTQ+ liaison officer is more than our current operating budget. We receive no funding from the City of Hamilton . . . Apologies feel so hollow when you are still struggling with broken bootstraps.”

Bergman nevertheless remains optimistic that the HPS can still repair their relationship with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in Hamilton. He believes that his discussions with the HPS during the independent review indicate their desire to work towards more trust, cooperation and transparency.

In his report’s conclusion, Bergman writes, “Much can be done by the HPS that will help foster a stronger relationship with the Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ communities in Hamilton … It requires a concerted effort on the part of all parties, but as a public institution, the onus rests first and foremost with the HPS.”

 

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