The Toronto lawyer tasked with an independent review of how the Hamilton Police Service (HPS) responded to violence at last year’s Pride festival in Gage Park says the service has a lot to apologize for since it “fell short in its planning and preparation for Pride 2019.”
The 125-page report, which examined whether the HPS acted too slowly when violent protesters attacked festival-goers in June 2019, says the police service will need to start making amends by issuing a public statement and several apologies to the community as well as undertaking better coordination with organizers before future events.
Scott Bergman of Cooper, Sandler, Shime & Bergman LLP in Toronto said in his report the service’s response was “inadequate” and that the force failed to properly consult with Pride organizers prior to and during the event.
The report revealed that a Hamilton Pride 2019 Special Events Advisory Team (S.E.A.T.) application was submitted to police on April 9, 2019 and approved on May 23, 2019 despite the fact Pride organizers did not request have paid duty officers for the event.
The Pride S.E.A.T. application was never forwarded to HPS Division 20, which has jurisdictional responsibility over Gage Park.
“Based upon my discussions with the crime manager and the documentary record, I find that the Division 20 crime manager tasked with preparing the HPS operational plan for Hamilton Pride 2019 was not provided with the S.E.A.T. application for the event,” said Bergman, “Indeed, the crime manager responsible for drafting the operational plan had no familiarity with and did not know what a S.E.A.T. application was.”
Unbeknownst to Pride organizers, the HPS community relations coordinator left her position in January 2018 which forced contact with the HPS Internal Support Network (ISN) to discuss the 2019 event, which was not a part of the ISN’s role.
Bergman’s report says that created “confusion with respect to the agenda” during a meeting on April 15, 2019 as pride organizers thought they would be meeting with HPS members with some seniority to make decisions on police involvement in the event.
“They were not aware that they were meeting with members of the ISN who had no such authority,” the report said.
After Pride organizers told HPS that they would not be able to host a recruitment booth for the service due to a short timeline to consult community members, HPS responded cordially on May 21. Pride organizers said there was no further contact with HPS until two days before the event.
“As a result, the Operational Plan (OP) lacked important details, including a map of the park outlining the permitted areas of the event and the location in the park where agitators were likely to arrive,” Bergman said in the report.
The report goes on to say that officers that did arrive at the confrontation during the event were not equipped to handle the “chaotic and volatile” event due to a lack of backup.
“It was not safe to break up the confrontation without more resources,” said Bergman.
Additionally, the city’s chief of police compounded HPS’s relationship with the LGBTQ community with comments made during a town hall segment with Bill Kelly Show on Global News Radio 900 CHML.
During the interview on June 19, Girt said police were not invited to the event and forces remained on the perimeter.
“To many, the Chief’s comments on the Bill Kelly Show seemed to imply that policing of the event was contingent upon event organizers endorsing and welcoming police” Bergman said.
The Bergman report said the public messaging coming from the HPS after Pride was seen by the LGBTQ community as an “abdication of the service’s essential function – to serve and protect.”
“When asked, most community members felt that the sole message coming from the HPS after Pride 2019 was that organizers had not invited police to the event and had they done so, the HPS would have intervened more quickly.”
Bergman included 38 recommendations with the HPS unequivocally apologizing for creating the impression that the police response to “agitators” would have been different had police been formally invited to the event.
He goes on to say they should apologize for its inadequate planning and the absence of communication with Pride organizers.
Other recommendations for Hamilton police include meeting with organizers to layout an OP for future events, develop and mandate more in-depth hands-on training and interaction for officers with respect LGBTQ issues, and consider undertaking a diversity audit or organizational culture review.
The report comes eight days into Pride month, which will be celebrated in Hamilton with a digital event on June 14 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bergman’s conclusions in the report were based on interviews with 42 community members, 24 HPS officers and civilian staff, as well as submissions from a wide range of individuals, and local news stories.
Bergman is expected to officially present the independent review during Thursday’s virtual meeting of the Hamilton police services board.