Hamilton Ont., police chief Eric Girt apologized to the LGBTQ2 community in a prepared statement during the city’s police services board meeting.
The apology comes following an independent review of the Hamilton Police Service’s (HPS) actions before and at the city’s 2019 Pride festivities in Gage Park.
“As chief, I take full responsibility for what took place at Pride before, during and after,” said Girt, “And I do apologize to the community for inadequate planning and preparation for Hamilton Pride 2019.”
On Thursday, the mayor, chief and a number Hamilton councillors on the board heard Toronto lawyer Scott Bergman read the highlights of his 125-page report, which examined whether the HPS acted too slowly when protesters attacked festival-goers.
The report also suggested the HPS “fell short in its planning and preparation for Pride 2019” with months of miscommunication and a lack of communication with organizers attempting to work out a plan with police for the June event.
“We can do better. We must do better,” said Girt.
The chief also apologized for comments made on and around a town hall segment with the Bill Kelly Show on Global News Radio 900 CHML in June 2019 when the chief said police were not invited to the event and that 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 in his report.
The Bergman report said the public messaging coming from the HPS after Pride was seen by the LGBTQ2 community as an “abdication of the service’s essential function — to serve and protect.”
“I’m also sorry for statements made during and after the event that created the impression our response would have been different had we been invited,” Girt said.
“Hamilton Police Service is committed to ensuring public safety where everyone is respected and protected, regardless of whether we asked or invited to participate.”
Mayor Fred Eisenberger also offered up an apology on behalf of the Hamilton police services board, saying they “sincerely and unreservedly” apologize to the LGBTQ2 communities for the events prior to and as they transpired.
He also said the city denounces all organizations, groups or individuals that promote “hate, violence, intolerance, discrimination and hate speech” in the community.
“The board thanks Mr. Bergman, for his report and accepts his findings and recommendations. We commit to work with the chief senior command of the Hamilton police service to implement all 38 recommendations,” said Eisenberger.
Bergman suggests LGBTQ2 liaison officer should be a full-time job
During the board meeting, Ward 6 councillor Tom Jackson asked Bergman to elaborate on his recommendation (#22) which suggested that the city’s LGBTQ2 liaison officer Det. Const. Rebecca Moran, hired in mid-February as a “conduit” for community concerns, should be a full-time position.
Bergman said he saw “significant issues” within the Hamilton community and that having an officer doubling the liaison job with a full caseload as a detective gives an “image” that potentially the police service isn’t taking LGBTQ2 issues as seriously as it could.
Cultural review and organizational cultural diversity audit
In the report, Bergman also suggested improving ties with the LGBTQ2 community with more “in-depth hands-on” training with the community and undertaking a diversity audit or organizational culture review which he says has been done by other police services across Canada.
“The suggestion is to get a snapshot of where the Police Services Act is currently and then figure out where it wants to go and then assess where it is, you know … six, eight, 12 months after the fact.”
OIPRD report on Hamilton police activities around Pride 2019
Two separate police reviews tied to 2019 Pride activities in Gage Park were on the agenda as part of the Hamilton Police Services (HPS) board meeting on Thursday afternoon.
The other report was submitted to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) by Hamilton police which was an internal review that concluded that complaints against the HPS were “thoroughly” investigated and found to be “unsubstantiated.”
The 110-page report, completed by an HPS staff sergeant in November centred around three reported service complaints. The complaints allege that police failed to properly plan for the Pride event at Gage Park, that officers took too long to respond to the disturbance among “attendees and protesters” and that police failed to arrest protesters.
After interviewing the complainants, witnesses and officers involved, an investigator was “satisfied” with the operational plan, saying it “reflected the most current information and intelligence” available to officers at the time.
The review also said that police followed proper response protocol in deploying 48 officers within a half-hour of being alerted about a confrontation at Gage Park.
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.
Mayor Eisenberger said recommendations from the report will be addressed at a board meeting in September.