The organization behind Toronto’s massive Pride parade should not be penalized for excluding uniformed police officers, a city committee ruled on Monday as it voted to continue backing municipal funding for the event.
The issue has been thrust onto the city agenda by city councillor John Campbell, who keeps musing about putting forth a motion that would deny an annual grant to Pride. The Toronto Police Association has presented the same request to the mayor’s office on behalf of a group of LGBT officers.
Supporters say that pulling the funding — $260,000 — would serve as a devastating blow to Pride’s ability to hold its annual celebration, one of the largest in the world.
Mayor John Tory said in a statement that he supports continuing to fund Pride, even though he believes police officers should be welcomed.
“We celebrate Pride, we appreciate Pride, we love Pride in this city.”
“We celebrate Pride, we appreciate Pride, we love Pride in this city. It has great benefits to our city: economic, otherwise and social,” said committee chair Michael Thompson, adding that both sides should be given the time to come to a resolution for next year’s parade.
Tensions have been high since last year’s Pride Parade, during which Black Lives Matter’s Toronto chapter staged a sit-in until organizers agreed to a list of demands. The most controversial of these was to bar uniformed cops from participating in future parades.
Bryn Hendricks, who described himself as a member of the LGBT community but wasn’t affiliated with any organization, presented the committee with a petition that had garnered 9,000 signatures online from people in favour of allowing police to march in the parade.
Police have never been banned though, Pride Toronto clarified once again in a statement on Sunday, having initially stated this in February, when police announced they wouldn’t be taking part in the parade this summer.
“What we ask is that police… don’t represent themselves in the light of their uniform, their weaponry, or police vehicles,” said Pride’s executive director Olivia Nuamah. “That is not banning.”
But Hendricks said the “different spin” didn’t change the fact that police aren’t welcome with their uniforms, weapons or vehicles — “a part of their identity,” he said.
Nuamah said as a queer movement, Pride had an obligation to listen to “every aspect” of its community. Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Nuamah said cops would be welcome even if they were wearing baseball caps and T-shirts representing the police, so long as they weren’t in uniform.
“Fiddling about with our finances, we feel, is unjust and unfair.”
She said she’d been in dialogue with the Toronto police, and that they’d decided to take 12 months to figure out what police participation in the parade would look like in the future.
“Fiddling about with our finances, we feel, is unjust and unfair,” she said, adding that the organization should be celebrated for its success.
While Hendricks initially supported defunding Pride, he now argues the organization should pay for their own security.
“It is hypocritical to say we do not want police marching in uniform, celebrating the oppression that they have overcome in their own occupation, but then we’re OK with police providing security at the same time.”
At Monday’s meeting, councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said “it would be horrible if anyone on city council even tabled a motion to defund Pride,” adding that it would send the “wrong message.”
“Pride is a sexual liberation movement,” she said, adding that the festival emerged out of protest and that the movement includes people who have different lived experiences and relationships with the Toronto police.
“It just does not bode well for the community when we’re being told by those who’ve perhaps never even marched in the parade that the funding should be taken away,” she said.
On whether or not Pride should pay for the Toronto police to provide security for the parade, Nuamah said it wasn’t up for negotiation, since whenever a permit is required for a city event, police are required by law to secure it.
“When they’re there, they are doing their job. When they’re in the parade, they’re invited,” she said.
Cover: Michael Hudson/The Canadian Press