Read the executive summary of the independent review into the events and the Hamilton Police Service response.
By RTH Staff
Published June 08, 2020
Editor's note: this is the Executive Summary of the independent investigation into the Hamilton Pride 2019 events that was prepared by Scott Bergman, a Toronto-based lawyer, on the request of the Hamilton Police Services Board. You can also read the full report [PDF].
The Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ (LGBTQIA+ communities include Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning (or Queer), Intersex, Asexual (or Ally) plus other communities) communities are entitled to celebrate their sexual orientation, diversity, gender identity and expression. They must be afforded full protection of the law in doing so. They are equally entitled to bias-free policing in their daily lives.
The majority of Canadians understand this. Some do not, including homophobes, white supremacists and organized agitators. They spew hatred, vitriol and derision. They are quick to rely on freedom of speech, while intolerant of the constitutional freedoms and rights of a multicultural, diverse society.
A democratic society must recognize that the expression of abhorrent views is a necessary price to pay to enjoy our freedoms. But there are limits. Enforceable limits.
On June 15, 2019, homophobes, white supremacists and organized agitators disrupted Hamilton Pride 2019. Their activities could reasonably have been anticipated by police, but they weren't. As a result, the police response wasinadequate - before, during and after the event. This added to the distrust of police in some circles.
With every crisis comes opportunity. There has been a legacy of distrust of police among many, not all, members of the Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ communities in Hamilton. This crisis provides an opportunity for lessons to be learned and for a new relationship to be forged between the Hamilton Police Service ("HPS") and these communities. I am convinced there is a strong appetite on the part of police and community members to do exactly that. It will not happen overnight. But this Report is designed to provide a blueprint for renewal. The community and the police require no less.
The HPS fell short in its planning and preparation for Pride 2019. The HPS did not prepare an Operational Plan (OP) until two days before the event. They failed to properly and effectively consult with Pride organizers prior to and during the event. The preparation and coordination was wholly inadequate. As a result, the 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.
The OP did not identify the fact that the attendance of agitators at the event was likely to cause a disturbance of the peace. The OP also failed to specify legal mechanisms such as relevant Criminal Code provisions and municipal by-laws that could be used to protect the event and its attendees from being disrupted and intimidated by agitators.
The HPS's inadequate preparation for Pride 2019 resulted in a failure to protect the public and Pride attendees during the event. The four officers assigned to Pride 2019 had no prior communication with or contact information for any of the Pride organizers. Officers at Pride did not know where the permitted areas for the event were or where the agitators were likely to attend.
Once the four officers arrived at the confrontation, they responded appropriately to a chaotic and volatile situation. It was not safe to break up the confrontation without more resources. They did not directly witness any criminal conduct and had to wait for backup.
Public comments from the Chief of Police and from the HPS after Pride 2019 demonstrated a lack of concern for the LGBTQIA+ communities. The responses failed to demonstrate an understanding of what community members had experienced at Pride 2019. Four days after Pride 2019, the Chief appeared on a local radio show and was asked about the police response to the violence that broke out. He said:
We were not invited to the event. We were asked not to be at the event and we remained on the perimeter. We have to respect the requests, too. It's kind of a no-win situation where you're asked not to be there, and then when you're not there, how come you weren't there?
The public messaging coming from the HPS after Pride 2019 was seen by community members 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. This may not have been true and was not the Chief's or the HPS's intended public messaging (the Chief later apologized for his comments). However, it was the message that the community took away. Whether invited to participate in Pride or not, HPS has an overriding obligation to police the event, protect the public and maintain order.
The relationship between the HPS and the Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ communities is damaged. The HPS is committed to and has taken steps to improve the relationship, but more must be done. The HPS has committed to do this difficult work. There are many Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ community 3members who want to work with the HPS to improve the relationship. But there are also many who do not.
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.
For 2021, officers, including the LGBTQ Liaison Officer, should meet with Pride organizers to discuss public safety issues after the OP is drafted and before the event takes place.
The OP must include far more information than it has in previous years, including the numerous legal tools available to prevent agitators from disrupting the event.
On the day of the event, supervising officer(s) should arrive at the park and contact organizers before the event starts. They should be in constant communication with organizers throughout 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.
HPS officers should be required to work within the Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ communities in order to receive experiential training in conjunction with more traditional, lecture-oriented sessions. Officers of all ranks should interact with LGBTQIA+ community members on a more regular basis.
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.
The HPS should issue a statement such as "The Hamilton Police Service is committed to protecting the public safety and ensuring that Pride 2021 is a success for everyone that attends to celebrate the diversity of Hamilton. HPS will work with Pride organizers to ensure a safe event where everyone is respected regardless of whether the HPS is asked to participate in Pride."
The Board and/or the HPS should institute a mechanism for external review and audit of these recommendations and grading of compliance. The HPS should be prepared to address how and in what manner it has responded to these recommendations 12 months and 24 months after the release of this Report.
Although significant tensions and distrust exist between the Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ communities and the Hamilton Police Service, there is still promise. Much can be done by the HPS that will help foster a stronger relationship with the Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ communities in Hamilton.
With effective, ongoing and committed community outreach, along with revised public communications efforts and a demonstrated desire on the part of the HPS leadership to prevent hateful Agitators from attending and interfering with Pride events, the relationship can make positive steps forward. This will undoubtedly take time. It requires a concerted effort on the part of all parties, but as a public institution, the onus rests first and foremost with the HPS.
Change often comes as a result of difficult circumstances and challenging events. My discussions with the HPS leadership indicate a strong desire to engage in the work necessary to build trust with the Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ communities. The cooperation and transparency with which the HPS operated throughout this Review must be emulated in its actions toward the Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ communities on a consistent basis moving forward.
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