HAMILTON — Advocates in Hamilton are calling for the city’s mayor and police force to apologize and make amends with the LGBTQ community amid escalating tensions following a violent disturbance at a Pride event and a protest at the mayor’s house.
LGBTQ leaders and groups in the Ontario city have criticized the police response to an altercation between attendees and two anti-Pride groups at an event earlier this month, which has led to five arrests over the past two weeks.
On Friday, police said they arrested a 33-year-old woman after a group of demonstrators showed up at Mayor Fred Eisenberger’s house that morning with signs that read, “Mayor doesn’t care about Queer People.”
Police said about 20 protesters arrived at about 7:15 a.m., banging on Eisenberger’s door and making a disturbance for about 15 minutes.
They said they’ve laid numerous charges against the woman, including theft under $5,000, criminal harassment and mischief, and she was not granted bail.
Cameron Kroetsch, an LGBTQ advocate, said there’s a ”real contradiction” in the way police handled each case.
“People showed up with a violent intention (at the Pride event) and those folks could have been arrested right then and there at Gage Park,” he said in a phone interview Saturday.
“It sends a very unclear and chilling message to people when arrests are made very quickly in some instances and not in others.”
Kroetsch is Pride Hamilton’s secretary and treasurer, but said he was speaking on behalf of another group, Hamilton Queers Against Hate.
Hamilton police spokeswoman Jackie Penman said the difference in the timing of arrests for both incidents was due to the number of victims and witnesses who came forward and their level of co-operation.
She said the mayor came forward as a victim and there were multiple co-operative witnesses that immediately identified themselves to police — which she said was not the case for the Pride incident.
Video of Friday morning’s protest that was posted on social media, including on Eisenberger’s own Twitter account, shows demonstrators shouting and playing instruments.
Eisenberger tweeted that he and his family were woken up by the disturbance, which he called “unacceptable.”
“This morning, my family and I were awoken to over 20 agitators at my home, yelling profanities, leaving signs on my lawn and banging on my door,” Eisenberger wrote on Twitter.
The mayor has faced criticism for being reserved in his actions and words regarding what Kroetsch has said is the continuous presence of hate groups in the city.
“I don’t know what to make of the priorities of our city, I don’t know what to make of the priorities of the mayor — I don’t know what the mayor is doing,” said Kroetsch.
The city’s police force has also received criticism for a perceived lack of action. Pride Hamilton issued a statement following the Gage Park altercation, stating there have been “long-standing issues” between the city’s gay community and police that remain unresolved.
“We feel that this was an opportunity for police to demonstrate that they were there to protect and act in solidarity with the community,” read the statement, which also said the force only had a small number of officers in parked vehicles at the event and that they took too long to respond to the disturbance.
Kroetsch said police were also aware of similar anti-LGBTQ and hate groups at past Pride events, but their response the this year’s event was negligent.
The police force said in its own statement that it understands the “public’s frustration” with the investigation into what it called “a complex case.”
“We have worked hard to build bridges with our LGBTQ2S community but we are always looking to strengthen our relationship. We look forward to engaging in the conversation and moving forward together,” the department said.
But Kroetsch said he’s hoping for an apology and real recognition for what he said is a ”harmful” relationship.
“I am hoping that city leaders will speak out,” he said.
“I am hoping that the mayor will take some time to reflect and both the mayor and leadership at Hamilton police will apologize and try to genuinely work with the community and reach out in a meaningful way.”
— By Alanna Rizza in Toronto
The Canadian Press