Hamillton explains HSR response after bigoted attack on city bus


Published August 4, 2022 at 3:41 pm

Representatives from the City of Hamilton and a local anti-racism resource centre have met to discuss equity and inclusion issues after a bigoted verbal attack on two transit riders.

On Tuesday, Hamilton Police (HPS) informed residents that were seeking witnesses into a hate incident. Police had received a third-party report that a man recorded himself making homophobic and transphobic slurs, and verbal threats, against people on a bus that was travelling to to a stop outside Gage Park on Lawrence Road.

The incident raised questions and speculation about how Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) handles such incidents. Today (Aug. 4), the city gave a relatively detailed update on the civic response. The release said meetings have been held with the Hamilton Anti-Racism Resource Centre.

“(T)he City of Hamilton and HARRC met to discuss and reaffirm our collective commitment to making Hamilton a more welcoming, equitable and inclusive community, and discussed opportunities for improved processes, information-sharing and public education.

“We will continue to work together to determine how we can ensure that families and individuals feel safe when using community amenities and services,” the release added. “These efforts will require ongoing, collective community action and collaboration across community partners and residents.”

Questions and speculation about why a report was made to HPS by someone who was physically outside of Ontario, rather than from the HSR operator, have come up over the past two days. The city release said the operator could not properly hear what was being said.

“With respect to the incident, the HSR bus operator followed policy and procedure. Due to their location on the vehicle and ambient noises while driving, the operator was not aware of the details or severity of the incident until it became public. The operator became aware of a possible incident immediately after it took place, when voices were raised, simultaneous to an individual exiting the bus. The operator then submitted the required reporting at the end of their shift, in keeping with procedure.”

All HSR buses are equipped with a two-way radio, an automatic vehicle location system and a silent emergency alarm system. Health and safety policies and procedures include the right to deny a person a ride on an HSR bus, or ask them to leave the bus, if the person is offensive to either the operator or customers, or is disorderly, violent or rude.

“Where an operator encounters such a situation and/or has denied service or has had a customer removed from a bus, they are directed to set the capture of video footage on the onboard cameras, and complete and submit an incident report to supervisory staff immediately upon completion of shift,” the city says.

“When faced with an unruly passenger who will not leave the bus, operators are directed to immediately seek assistance from supervisory staff, or directly from police as appropriate. In certain circumstances, the City may also employ other tools available, such as invoking the City’s Trespass By-law, whereby an individual may be banned from HSR vehicles and stations.”

Individuals who have been the target of a hate incident, or a witness to one, are asked to visit HARRC’s website (harrc.ca) or contact the Hamilton Police.

“The City of Hamilton is committed to making our community a more welcoming, equitable and inclusive place where people can access and enjoy our amenities and services free from hate, racism, and discrimination,” Mayor Fred Eisenberger states. “Working together with community partners, the City will continue to find ways to ensure all community spaces are always a welcoming experience for everyone.”

Hamilton Police said yesterday that its hate crime unit has investigated the incident, and will apply to classify it as “a Hate Crime offence.” The police say this is due to the perception that the victims belong to an identified group.

Christopter Pretula, a 41-year-old resident of Hamilton, has been charged with assault and uttering a threat.

The incident came almost three years to the day since the founding of the No Hate In The Hammer campaign. In 2019, the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, and the John Howard Society of Hamilton, Burlington and Area formed the coalition to respond to a rise in police reported-hate crime and hateful extremist views in the city.

That came about six weeks after an attack against the 2SLGBTQIA+ community at Gage Park — close to where the bus incident happened.

On June 15, 2019, a group of religious extremists, carrying homophobic signs, went to Gage Park during a Pride celebration. That escalated into a physical confrontation where several people were injured. That led to much public debate about Hamilton Police’s relationship with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, and some actions that are intended to improve it.

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