The Hamilton Chief of Police badge in 2017. Credit: Joey Coleman / The Public Record

Ontario’s non-Indigenous police forces cite Peelian principles as the foundation of professional policing.

Peelian principles, more commonly referred to as “policing by consent” are named after Sir Robert Peel, who in 1829 created the Metropolitan Police in London, England.
Hamilton Chief of Police Eric Girt regularly cites these principles as foundational to his own policing practice.

The 125-page Independent Review into the Events Surrounding Hamilton Pride 2019, released to the public on Monday, is a damning indictment of the leadership of Chief Girt and his senior command staff.

The Report conclusively reveals HPS Command are failing to apply the principles they espouse, and are blinded by a focus upon Hamilton’s small anarchist community.

The Report reveals repeated organizational failings prior to the violence at the Pride Hamilton celebration on June 15, 2019, a breakdown in HPS communications and command during the violence, and repeated bungling by Chief Girt following the violence.

Instead of taking responsibility for their actions, HPS Command tried to shift attention away from their failings.

“The HPS’s inadequate preparation for Pride 2019 resulted in a failure to protect the public and Pride attendees during the event”, wrote Scott Bergman, the lawyer hired by the Hamilton Police Services Board to conduct the review.

“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”, Bergman concludes.

Underscoring the shortcomings of leadership documented in the Report, Chief Girt’s office responded to media questions Monday with a statement the Chief won’t be taking questions from journalists until Thursday afternoon.

Considering recommendation #34, that the Chief and HPS Command “should receive enhanced media training” in response to Chief Girt’s inept public statements in all of this, it is likely best the Chief is exercising his right to remain silent.
Reading the Report, it is clear, Hamilton needs a new Chief of Police.

A Police Chief with the ability to implement the Report’s recommendations, a Chief who will fix the serious organizational structure problems detailed in the Report, a Chief who fixes the command culture of the Hamilton Police Service, and provides the leadership needed to secure and maintain public respect.

The new Chief must immediately begin enacting the Report recommendations, not just the ones regarding more consultation, they must take action to implement the hard changes required within the Hamilton Police Service.

The Report states that the Chief should update the public on how they are implementing the recommendations in 12 and 24 months.  Thus a new Chief will need to act decisively.

Not only does the Bergman Report on its own detail why the current Police Chief is not the person to reform our Hamilton Police Service. At the same time Bergman’s report was released, an internal review conducted by Chief Girt’s office was released. That report differs significantly from Bergman’s, basically a “nothing to see here” document which proves once again that police are unable to investigate police.

As the Bergman Report details, Chief Girt and HPS command are unable to see the serious shortcomings within their organization, in many cases they are the problem.
Where does one begin to unravel the failings of HPS Command as detailed in this report?

Hamilton Chief of Police Eric Girt in August 2017 at a meeting of the Advisory Committee for Persons with Disabilities
Failings Prior to Pride

Let us start at the beginning of the timeline provided by the Bergman Report report.
Hamilton Police did not inform the LBGTQ community their Community Relations Coordinator left  in January 2018. Pride organizers emailed the Coordinator’s email address in late 2018 and early 2019. The email address was active, with no autoreply and nobody monitoring it.

(That the Community Relations Coordinator could leave for another job in January 2018, the position left unfilled, and the community does not notice raises some serious questions of its own)

The Community Relations Office is part of HPS Command, and the direct responsibility of Chief Girt. The buck stops at Chief Girt, this is his failure.

Eventually, Pride organizers “were put in contact with the co-chairs of the HPS Internal Support Network (“ISN”). ISN is an internal support group for HPS members and civilian employees of the Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ communities.

“To my knowledge, the ISN had never before been a liaison or conduit between the HPS and Pride event organizers”, writes Bergman. “That is not the ISN’s role”.

This sets off a chain of miscommunications, the Hamilton Police officers who are ISN co-chairs believe they are meeting with Pride organizers for one reason, Pride organizers believe they are meeting with Police Officers with the authority to create the plans needed to ensure the safety of Pride events.

What happened when the meeting occurred in mid-April is disputed; however, out of the meeting the ISN members recommend HPS apply to have a recruiting booth at Pride.

The Pride organizers did not grant the request, Bergman writes these communications were cordial.

Hamilton Police have a sworn officer assigned as a member of the City of Hamilton Special Events Application Team which reviews all event permit requests. This officer failed to communicate with the East Hamilton Divisional police officer who was tasked with creating the operational plan for the Pride event.

“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”, read the Report.

Two days before the events of June 15, an officer – not identified in the report – contacts the East Hamilton Division to share there is intelligence that street evangelists who’ve disrupted Pride events for years, including in Hamilton in 2018, may try to disrupt the 2019 event. The crime manager in the office on June 13 has a scheduled day off on June 14. Thus, two crime managers work on the report. The Independent Report hints at all the problems associated with the tight timeline, vague information, lack of familiarity with the matters at hand, and no clear lines of accountability.

This brings us to the disputed versions of the pre-Pride event phone call. As Bergman notes, for the purposes of the review, it is not necessary to reconcile the differing versions.

“What is abundantly clear from the two versions personally recounted to me is that there was a fundamental misunderstanding and breakdown in communication between the officer who drafted the OP for the HPS and the Hamilton Pride organizing committee”, write Bergman.

This brings us back to the failing of HPS Command, with no Community Relations Coordinator in the Office of the Chief of Police, swore police officers low in the hierarchy of the Hamilton Police Service are scrambling to do the work that Chief Girt has failed to do. Front-line officers are set up to fail.

Hamilton Pride organizers are provided with a phone number by the Divisional crime manager, Pride believes this number is given to them as a cellular contact to use during the Pride event. It is not, it is the Monday to Friday desk phone at the Divisional Crime Management Office.

Bergman writes “this mishandling of communication contributed to how the unfortunate circumstances unfolded on the day of the event and is addressed in greater detail in the recommendations below”.

Failings on June 15

The failures of Police Command create the snowballs which avalanche on June 15 allowing a hodgepodge of hateful street evangelists, white supremacists, and Yellow Vest movement members to disrupt the Pride celebrations at Gage Park, engaging in brawls with Pride Defenders. [The Report uses the terms Agitators and Pride Defenders to describe the two groups].

Four uniformed police officers, and two plainclothes officers, were posted to Gage Park to monitor for possible disruption of Pride. The report details the confusion among the police assigned as to how to patrol and prevent disruption. They don’t communicate with Pride organizers. Meanwhile, a large Hamilton Police presence, including the Public Order Unit, are deployed to City Hall to keep Yellow Vest members and counter-protestors separated. There is one sentence in the police Pride Operational Plan that the Divisional police officers could make a request to the HPS Command Duty Officer for support from the POU.

The following paragraph is indicative of the Command attitude towards the Pride event (the dispatcher knows all 9-1-1 calls are recorded, which makes this all the more shocking):

“At approximately 12:50 p.m., a member of the public (not a Pride organizer) saw the Agitators entering Gage Park from Main Street and called 9-1-1. The caller reported no disturbance or trouble at that time but told the 9-1-1 dispatcher that although they understood free speech and protesting, the presence of the Agitators and their signs was going to upset people and things could end badly. In response, the 9-1-1 dispatcher stated that “the organizers asked that police not go, not sure what we are supposed to do here…they don’t want police presence and makes it very difficult to respond to protest…will put it on the board for information but not sure what we are supposed to do…” The dispatcher created a formal call record and placed the incident “on the board.” The caller was never asked where the Agitators were in the park, nor did they provide that information”

The Police response to violence was delayed and disorganized. The report details why many in the Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ communities rightfully perceived the police response as being pro-Agitator.
This paragraph is illustrative:

“During this time, one of the Agitators’ apparent leaders continued to use his megaphone to amplify highly provocative and hateful messages toward Pride Defenders including “you’re full of hatred. Sexual deviance leads to more sexual deviance. It’s a fact…Nothing but violence.” HPS officers permitted this to continue without directing the Agitator to stop or confiscating his megaphone. As previously indicated, absent a permit, amplified sound is prohibited within City of Hamilton parks. The Agitators did not have any such permit”

Hamilton Police Board Chair, Mayor Fred Eisenberger at the June 26 Hamilton City Council meeting warning members of the LGBTQ+ community to be quiet as Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla criticizes them related to the violence at Pride 2019.
Failings after June 15

But the Anarchists!

The Report reveals HPS Command fixated upon a small anarchist involvement among the Pride Defenders. A HPS Command which could not see beyond the Rabbit Hole they dug.

HPS Command is shown to complete disregard the very Peelian Principles they espouse.
Bergman’s findings specifically respond to the police command fixation. “The majority of Pride Defenders were not anarchists from The Tower”, he writes.

The arrest of Cedar Hopperton, a well known anarchist leader, for a speech Hopperton delivered during a public June 18 Town Hall hosted by the LGBTQ Advisory Committee at City Hall encapsulates the rabbit hole HPS descended down due to their obsession with the small group of anarchists believed to have been present at Gage Park on June 15.
[Local anarchists sprayed “Free Cedar” stencils with a rabbit as graffiti across Hamilton following the detainment of Hopperton]

Initially, Hamilton Police claimed they arrested Hopperton for being at Gage Park, a breach of Hopperton’s probation HPS Command falsely claimed. The Parole Board concluded Hopperton was not at Gage Park

This left HPS Command to rely upon their claim that Hopperton’s speech at City Hall June 18 constituted “incitement”. The Parole Board revoked Hopperton’s parole.
I was at City Hall on June 18, I heard Hopperton’s speech.

It was inflammatory, it was meant to stir the emotions of the crowd, and it failed to do so.

The crowd was not moved to anger, many members of the Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ communities present were willing to listen to Deputy Chief Frank Bergen who attended the Town Hall in uniform. Attempts to heckle Bergen out of the meeting were unsuccessful.

In the report, Bergman quotes a HPS senior officer  as stating anarchists have “hijacked the relationships that the police service have with the LGBTQ2+ community as well as with other marginalized communities”.

But the Anarchists!

Going back to my observations of the June 18 Town Hall. Hopperton and members of the anarchist community present failed to sway opinion in the room despite positioning themselves in a way to group dynamic against police.

In fact, a member of the LGBTQ community went up to the podium after Hopperton sat down and specifically rebutted the views espoused by Hopperton on behalf of the anarchists.

It is HPS Command which ‘hijacked the relationships that the police service have with the LGBTQ2+ community as well as with other marginalized communities’.

But the Anarchists! Indeed.

“The communities’ sentiment of being spied upon was reinforced after Hopperton was arrested on June 22, 2019 on the ostensible grounds of a parole violation for allegedly having attended Pride as a defender”, Bergman writes.

Bergman’s report details the meandering commentary of Chief Girt on CHML June 19 (pgs 62-64) during which the Chief attempted to justify the poor response of Hamilton Police on June 15.

Chief Girt refers to the HPS not being allowed a recruitment booth, “people, who either extreme left or extreme right wanting to engage in fundamentally criminal acts”, and hinted at the coming arrest of those bound by court orders.

Police arrested Pride Defenders in the days which followed; meanwhile, the Agitators – whose violence was well documented in videos and one of whom ‘helmet guy’ was known to police and the video evidence more than adequate to lay charges – were not arrested.

“Many were told by police that arrests could only be made if the victim provides a statement. This is not correct in law. While direct witnesses and a co-operating victim are typically the backbone for criminal prosecutions, police have discretion to lay charges if there are reasonable and probable grounds for believing a criminal offence has been committed”, Bergman writes.

Hamilton Police Command knew this, But the Anarchists!

Fast-forward to September 10, 2019, Chief Girt speaks on CHML. Here is how Bergman summaries Chief Girts statements this day (pages 66 & 67):

On September 10, 2019, the Chief appeared on the Bill Kelly Show for his regular Town Hall segment. This appearance was after the August 29, 2019 initial meeting that the Chief had attended with LGBTQIA+ community members that will be discussed below. Part of the Town Hall included a discussion of that meeting.

As part of that meeting, one of the community members had talked about how the police had worked with the LGBTQIA+ communities in the past on issues such as some men not having a safe space for sexual encounters, and sexual activity in public places. This is an issue that requires greater understanding from the police.

While discussing HPS’s cooperation with the LGBTQIA+ community on air, Chief Girt told Bill Kelly that “one of them (a community member) talked about the approach we had to take collectively for public sex in washrooms. And you’ve got the complaints perspective from families attending, Centre Mall, for whatever reason used to be kind of an epicenter. So, we worked collaboratively to say that we understand that, this may not be the best place to do it. I understand you’ve got consenting adults that want to do that, but it’s in a public place so kind of have to strike a balance there. It’s different than the bathhouse, it’s different than the other things that have gone on through the course of time, but my point is if you can work collaboratively to meet both objectives because the last thing we want to do is cause additional harm to whoever is involved in that activity. So we’re working towards that, we have another meeting coming up.”

Later in the segment, Chief Girt was speaking about the law and how he was required to uphold the law, especially the constitutional right to free speech even in circumstances where there are demonstrations and hate-fueled speech. The Chief stated that he is bound by what the courts have said about hate speech.

The Chief attempted to illustrate how laws and court interpretations of laws can and do change in progressive ways over time: “For example, we’ve had some recent amendments to the Criminal Code that have finally removed anal intercourse as a prohibited activity. Finally. And that’s after years and years of petitioning. So, when you have consenting adults engaged in it was fine. If you have conditions where you have a youth involved, that’s a whole other ball of wax but on the Code for years was this particular offence. Now with the change in times it hasn’t been enforced, for good reason.”

These comments were immediately condemned by the community and met with extraordinary disdain. Whatever the intent, the Chief’s comments were hurtful and incredibly harmful to many.

In Conclusion

Time and time again, well respected leaders in the Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ communities expended their own social capital in organizing conversations with Chief Girt; they brought members of their community to the table.

Time and time again, Chief Girt made ill-advised (being generous) comments on CHML following these meetings were taken as inflammatory to the community.

Speaking with these community leaders in the hours following the release of the Bergman Report yesterday, they state each of the 38 recommendations must be implemented.

They can’t expend their remaining political capital within their own communities until there is substantial progress by HPS Command to address the numerous significant shortcomings revealed in this report.

This cannot be a check the box exercise. The Report revealed the present culture is one of “check the box”, and it is failing Hamiltonians miserably.

The report unpacks the experiences of one community stemming from a single event. It is limited, yet reveals so much.

Hamilton needs a new Chief of Police who does not just espouse Robert Peel’s principles, we need a Chief who lives them, implements them, and who will reform the Hamilton Police Service.

Police Chiefs are appointed for five-year terms, Girt’s term ends in May 2021. Girt will have served 35 years as a Hamilton Police Officer.

It is time to start the search for our next Chief of Police.

Many of the recommendations can be implemented in the coming 12 and 24 months; the systemic failings revealed require long-term leadership, likely beyond just five-years to implement and ensure change becomes culture.

Production Details
v. 1.0.1
First published: June 9, 2020
Last edited: June 9, 2020
Author: Joey Coleman
Edit Record
v. 1.0.0 original version
v. 1.0.1 correction of four minor typos