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Hamilton Pride 2019 review: Police response was ‘inadequate’

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Hamilton Pride 2019 review: Police response was ‘inadequate’

Hamilton Police should ‘unequivocally’ apologize for their mishandling of Hamilton’s Pride 2019 event in Gage Park, according to a report from the lawyer tasked with reviewing what took place on June 15, 2019.

The independent review into the Hamilton Police Service’s (HPS) conduct at Pride 2019 event was released Monday (June 8) and it offers a series of recommendations to assist in moving forward and addressing the incredibly fraught relationship between police and the Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ community.

“On June 15, 2019, homophobes, white supremacists and organized agitators disrupted Hamilton Pride 2019,” the report, written by Scott Bergman of Cooper, Sandler, Shime & Bergman LLP in Toronto, states in its executive summary.

“Their activities could reasonably have been anticipated by police, but they weren’t.

“As a result, the police response was inadequate — before, during and after the event.”

Bergman goes on to write that a breakdown in communications between Pride organizers and HPS led to there being no operation plan (OP) when it came to the event.

“The HPS’s inadequate preparation for Pride 2019 resulted in a failure to protect the public and Pride attendees during the event,” the report says.

Afterwards, comments made by HPS chief Eric Girt to the effect that their response to the event was tempered by the fact that they weren’t invited “demonstrated a lack of concern for the LGBTQIA+ communities,” the report states.

These findings seem to fly in the face of a report prepared by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) and reported on by CBC Hamilton last week.

That review, conducted and submitted by an HPS staff sergeant, concluded that police had a proper OP around the event and that nearly 50 officers responded to the scene shortly after being called.

The 124-page report from Bergman goes into historical details about Pride in Hamilton, which first came to the city in 1991. The background shows that the event has historically been targeted by ‘hateful’ protestors and homophobic agitators.

In some instances, it appears that Pride organizers and police had a somewhat collegial relationship.

In 2018, the report says, police were present at the first Pride event in Gage Park and responded to the presence of agitators. At that event, no violence was reported.

So what happened that so eroded the relationship with police that they were so woefully unprepared for last year’s event?

According to the report, leading up to Pride 2019, a series of Yellow Vest protests outside of Hamilton City Hall gave the impression to people who were among counter-protestors that HPS was “on the side of these alt-right groups.”

Bergman’s report notes that HPS maintains “that they are duty-bound to keep the peace and ensure that lawful speech, not hate speech, is protected.”

Meaning that in cases where tensions were high at protests, the goal would be to de-escalate the situation and an arrest at that moment may not be the appropriate action to take.

The report also notes that protests at City Hall, where permits are not required, “HPS officers do have the power to issue trespass to property warnings to people who are engaged in improper, offensive or disruptive behaviour on city property.”

He does, however, recommend that HPS’s senior command reconsider doing so.

Throughout his research and consultations for the report, Bergman says that many members of the community came forward with stories of discriminatory policing.

A theme, he says, he’s not unfamiliar within the course of his profession and one that is echoed in academic papers.

“The experience of being over-policed and under-protected is all too common among those who are part of racialized, Two-Spirit, LGBTQIA+ and other minority communities,” he wrote.

Considering the current concerns of society at large, this finding likely comes as no surprise to many.

One of the people Bergman says he spoke with from the Indigenous community told a story about driving in downtown Hamilton and getting stopped by police regularly and being confused by it.

“Then I noticed the common denominator was this featherhead dress on my mirror. I never got stopped after,” the person told Bergman.

Ultimately, Bergman’s findings were that racialized and marginalized community members felt HPS does not make them feel safe but he stresses that out of this crisis, there is an opportunity to do better.

To that end, he offers a series of recommendations to improve relations between police and the community but notes that there are members of the Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ community (and others for that matter) that may not want to repair this relationship.

Here’s just some of the recommendations from Bergman’s report:

  • The HPS should unequivocally apologize to the community for its inadequate planning, the absence of communication with Pride organizers, and for creating the impression that the police response to agitators would have been different had the HPS been formally invited to the event
  • The HPS and the Hamilton Police Services Board should publicly acknowledge that building a relationship of mutual trust will take years and should publicly commit to the hard work necessary for that to happen.
  • The HPS must develop and mandate more in-depth seminars and hands-on training for officers with respect to Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ issues.
  • All senior command officers should receive enhanced media training to ensure any media appearances are conducted with professionalism and appropriate messaging.
  • The HPS should carefully consider undertaking a diversity audit or organizational culture review.

To read the report and its recommendations in its entirety, you can find it here.

Bergman will be formally presenting the report to the Hamilton Police Service’s Board virtual meeting on Thursday (June 11) at 1 p.m.

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