The response to an independent review about how Hamilton police responded to the events before, during and after last year’s Pride Festival at Gage Park has been met with a common sentiment from the city’s LGBTQ residents:
“That’s what we’ve been saying all along.”
The review from Toronto lawyer Scott Bergman concluded that Hamilton police were “inadequate” in their response to the violence that took place on the grounds of the park where Pride was held in 2019.
Bergman issued 38 recommendations along with the evidence in his report, which was gathered through interviews with police and LGBTQ2 community members, submissions, internal and external city reports, and news stories.
Dakota Lanktree, a transgender filmmaker in Hamilton, said the report spells out what they’ve been saying since the events of last June — and even before then.
“What this report does … it says, ‘Yeah, you guys were right.’ And my response to that is, ‘Yeah, we knew.’ We knew that we were right about this.
“We felt it, we experienced it. This is what we lived and are still living.”
The independent review was released Monday, the same day that another report was released as part of the agenda for Thursday’s Hamilton police services board meeting. That report was an internal investigation conducted by a Hamilton police officer and was prompted by three service complaints to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) about police response to Hamilton Pride.
While Bergman’s independent review found that police response was flawed, the internal investigation determined that the complaints were “unsubstantiated”.
The timing of both reports being released isn’t lost on Lanktree, who said its findings reflect the experiences highlighted during ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests across the world. She said those who fall into more than one marginalized category experience more discrimination and are more at risk during interactions with police.
That’s a reality that Kiel Hughes, a Black member of Hamilton’s LGBTQ2 community, said he’s been vocal about for a long time.
“I’m very tired of repeating myself constantly,” said Hughes. “Black people are tired. The LGBTQ community is tired.”
While he said it’s frustrating that the city spent $600,000 on an independent review that spelled out what Hamilton’s LGBTQ2 community has already said, Hughes said he acknowledges that the words have a different weight when they’re delivered in an official report.
“I’ve said constantly, in order for us to break down these walls, it has to be done from the inside. And sadly, a straight white man is going to listen to a straight white man before he listens to a woman, or a gay man, or a person of colour, or somebody who’s transgender. And this is speaking from my own observations and seeing what I’ve seen in society.”
While it’s not surprising, Hughes said it’s also immensely frustrating to see his own experiences not given merit on their own.
“For some reason, you guys all feel like we can’t save ourselves. When we speak, it’s just like, ‘Yup, shh, stay quiet.’ Or, ‘you’re aggressive, you’re angry, you’re violent, you’re hostile’. All of those negative terms.
“But then when a cis white man, hetero or gay … speaks up, it’s like the world stops. Now everybody has to listen.”
Lanktree said she’s seen some people in the community referring to the review as “vindication” of what they’ve been saying all along, but said she sees it somewhat differently.
“It’s taken a long time for this to happen, and ultimately the results of it might be an apology and a couple of things changed, and stuff like that, but it doesn’t undo the violence and gaslighting that was done to the community.”
Cameron Kroetsch, who was among those interviewed for Bergman’s review, echoed the sentiments shared by Hughes and Lanktree.
“These are things the community has been talking about for decades. We didn’t need to spend $600,000 and have folks from outside of Hamilton come in to tell us these things. These are things the police knew, these are things they’ve been told, these are things that the report even mentions they admit they were told.”
Both Hamilton police chief Eric Girt and Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who chairs the city’s police services board, have declined to comment on the review until Bergman presents it to the police services board on Thursday.
Kroetsch said he’s not confident that Hamilton police will act on the 38 recommendations laid out in Bergman’s report, but added that it may be more productive to focus on calls to defund the police, which refers to the redistribution of tax dollars that have been allocated to police budgets and putting them into social programs.
“If we’ve learned anything from this report, it’s that these systems of policing don’t understand how to relate to, interact with, protect, and keep safe communities. They just don’t know how to do it. It’s not part of the way the system is designed.”
Hughes doesn’t have much confidence in the review leading to change either, especially when taken into account with the service’s independent investigation.
“You have two different reports with two different results. What’s going to be the next course of action? Who are you going to consult for your next course of action? Is your next course of action going to be, ‘Let’s just put a bandaid on it and call it fixed’, or to do something for a moment, and then resort back to previous mannerisms?”
“Until serious change happens, I don’t think people are going to truly trust police, especially members of the Black community. I would even say other people of colour, the LGBTQ community.”
One takeaway from the review, said Hughes, is that it’s crucial to listen to those who are part of a marginalized community when they tell you they’re experiencing injustice.
“Just listen. Put your personal feelings aside and try to have compassion. Try for a moment to think how you would feel if you were in that person’s shoes, having to deal with this on a daily basis. Always having to basically be in a ‘fight or flight’ mode. And you’re backing up against the wall because, you know, it’s ingrained into society to treat you this way.
“For a moment, just think about how that feels. Living that every day and trying to basically break that narrative because you’re trying to create your own story.”