HAMILTON —The police chief in Hamilton has apologized to the LGBTQ community for comments he made on the radio that caused an uproar with the city’s gay population.
Chief Eric Girt spoke to CHML radio host Bill Kelly about the strained relationship that has escalated following criticism of the police force’s response to a violent disturbance at a Pride event.
Girt talked about how Hamilton police had received complaints years ago from families about sex in public washrooms when he was asked about making amends.
“So we worked collaboratively to say, ‘Ok, we understand this may not be the best place to do it, and I understand you’ve got consenting adults to do that, but it’s in a public place so we’ve got to strike a balance there,”’ Girt said on the radio.
“It’s different than the bath house, 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 too is cause additional harm to whoever’s been involved in that activity.”
Girt’s comments caused additional harm to Cameron Kroetsch, an LGBTQ advocate in Hamilton.
He said Girt’s statements suggest the gay community is a danger to families and kids.
“Frankly, I thought it was disgusting for him to say that,” said Kroetsch.
Girt said in a statement Friday that he understands the impact of his words.
“These comments were made as I attempted to illustrate a point about legislative change. I appreciate the impact of the words I chose and for this, I apologize,” he said, adding that he is committed to repairing the relationship with the gay community.
Girt’s comments come after months of issues between the police force and the city’s LGBTQ community, which was sparked by accusations that there was a lack of action from officers following an altercation at a Pride event in June.
Police have said they responded to a large disturbance at the event at Gage Park on June 15 that resulted in a physical confrontation. Officers escorted a religious group and members of the yellow vest movement, a populist group that originated in France, off of event property.
Investigators said the groups were displaying anti-LGBTQ signs and there was an argument with the event’s attendees.
Police laid multiple charges after the incident, which involved two anti-Pride groups, but LGBTQ leaders and groups have criticized the police force for not making arrests immediately at the event and only when there was uproar from the community.
Pride Hamilton said afterward that there have been “long-standing issues” between the city’s gay community and police that remain unresolved.
Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger has also been criticized for being reserved in his actions for what advocates have said is a continuous presence of hate groups in the city.
Kroetsch said he attended a meeting with police in recent weeks regarding next steps on how to improve their relationship, but he said he remains dissatisfied with how the police force has taken accountability.
“Apologies are meaningless without any change or action,” said Kroetsch. “They don’t mean anything if there isn’t any change of behaviour.”