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LGBTQ2 comments made by Hamilton police chief during radio interview dismissed by watchdog

Hamilton Police Chief Eric Girt speaks at a police services board meeting.
Hamilton Police Chief Eric Girt speaks at a police services board meeting. Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

A Hamilton man who filed a complaint in connection with comments made by Hamilton’s police chief during a radio interview in September has seen his case dismissed by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD)

Michael Demone complained that Chief Eric Girt’s comments on Global News Radio 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly Show on Sept. 10 evoked harmful stereotypes faced by LGBTQ2 people when he discussed how previous police chiefs dealt with historical issues in the community, including police fielding complaints about sex in public washrooms.

In his letter to the OIRPD, Demone said: “it can easily be argued that a persistent pattern of anti-gay bias and discrimination exists within’ the leadership of the HPS (Hamilton Police Service).”

In its decision, the OIPRD wrote to Demone and told him that they “recognized” the effects the chief’s comments made on the LGBTQ community but said it was “unlikely, given the context in which they were made”, to constitute misconduct.

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They went on to say their decision also took into account the fact that the HPS board has already “engaged outside counsel” to conduct an independent review of the actions of police at the Pride celebrations, which will include the police chief.

The OIPRD dismissed the misconduct claim using section 60(4) of the federal Police Services Act which states the office can dismiss a complaint if it’s “not in the public interest.”

In a statement to Global News, Demone said he was “disappointed, though not surprised”, with the OIPRD decision.

“What concerns me about the decision is the conflation of my complaint with the review of police action during the 2019 Hamilton Pride event currently underway,” said Demone.

“While both of these issues may speak to larger cultural or political problems within the Hamilton Police Service, I believe that the substance of my complaint should be reviewed and considered based on its own merit. By conflating these two issues, the impact of my complaint loses significance.”

Demone says he’s still working with a legal team to pursue a number of other complaints through the court system and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.

READ MORE: Police board discusses review of actions at Hamilton Pride, field complaints over chief’s remarks

During the interview on Global News Radio 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly Show on Sept. 10, Girt referenced a discussion he had during a meeting with representatives of the LGBTQ2 community and how a public bathroom “maybe not the best place to do it.”

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Days after the interview, Demone said it was “inconceivable” that someone in a position of public authority would “evoke the most outrageous and egregious stereotypes as a response to legitimate questions.”

“It’s widely acknowledged that dissemination and repetition of stereotypes — especially among the gay community — is known to incite discrimination, murder and violence,” said Demone. “His actions and words are completely irresponsible and he needs to be held to account.”

Michael Demone addressed the Hamilton Police Services Board on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019
Michael Demone addressed the Hamilton Police Services Board on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019 Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

Girt issued a written apology after other members of Hamilton’s LGBTQ2 community called out his remarks on social media following the interview.

READ MORE: Hamilton police services board clears the way for review of conduct during 2019 Pride event

“I’ve offered the apology for the impact of those remarks and I look forward to moving forward with that community to see what we can accomplish,” said Girt to reporters gathered outside of council chambers after a Police Services Board Meeting on Sept. 12, 2019.

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Hamilton Police Chief Eric Girt and Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger speak with media following a police services board meeting.
Hamilton Police Chief Eric Girt and Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger speak with media following a police services board meeting. Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

Mayor Fred Eisenberger backed up the chief’s decision to apologize and said it was “appropriate.”

Tensions between Hamilton police and the LGBTQ2 community in Hamilton became strained in June of 2019 when officers arrested five people in connection with a fight at the Pride Festival in Gage Park.

The incident was the catalyst for a number of demonstrations in the city months later, including a march on Mayor Eisenberger’s home in late June in which he claimed “agitators” yelled profanities and left signs on his lawn.

Police arrest suspect involved in Hamilton Pride altercation
Police arrest suspect involved in Hamilton Pride altercation

In October, Eisenberger agreed to have a lawyer lead a third-party review of Hamilton police’s response after much criticism from the LGBTQ2 community charging that officers were slow to respond to violence at Pride.

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READ MORE: Hamilton lacks dedicated queer spaces for LGBTQ2 community: study

In November, Toronto lawyer Scott Bergman of Cooper, Sandler, Shime and Bergman LLP was appointed to conduct the review after a recommendation from a city subcommittee.

Bergman’s report and recommendations are expected by April 30, 2020.

Meanwhile, Chris Vanderweide, the Kitchener man also known as “Helmet Guy” after he allegedly hit people in the face with a helmet at the Pride event, has a trial date set for September 2020.  Vanderweide, 27, is charged with two counts of assault with a weapon.

WATCH: (June 28, 2019) Protestors plant signs on Mayor Fred Eisenberger’s front lawn

Protestors plant signs on Mayor Fred Eisenberger’s front lawn
Protestors plant signs on Mayor Fred Eisenberger’s front lawn