Fri., May 26, 2017
A Toronto councillor’s attempt to suspend the city’s annual grant to Pride Toronto over police participation has failed by a vote of 17-27.
Council voted down Councillor John Campbell’s motion — it moved that $260,000 flow only if uniformed, armed police officers are welcome to march in the annual parade that caps Pride Month — after almost seven hours of heated and often emotional debate Friday.
The Etobicoke councillor has never been to Pride, but said he was sticking up for officers, including those who are gay, after the huge LGBTQ festival failed to “live up to its core value of inclusivity.”
Pride issued the request for cops to not march in uniform and with weapons in January in response to demands from Black Lives Matter Toronto, members of which halted the 2016 Pride parade during a protest that lasted about a half-hour. The group, which in the past criticized police over carding, accused Pride organizers of “anti-blackness.”
Campbell told council: “You don’t bring people together by pushing them apart and that has been Pride’s solution. You’re either inclusive or you’re not.”
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Many councillors, however, noted that Police Chief Mark Saunders has asked officers to not march in uniform in this year’s parade, while he works with Pride to try to find consensus on police participation in the 2018 event.
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, Toronto’s only openly gay councillor, said parade-goers from communities including racialized, trans and disabled Torontonians “will experience the uniform of a police officer differently,” based on their own interactions with them.
She noted the city grant is for elements of the month-long festival, not the parade, itself, which she called a “celebration of sexual liberation” that grew out of protests against 1981 police bathhouse raids for which Saunders officially apologized last year.
Suspending the grant would cancel Pride events for families, “clean and sober” revelers, black Torontonians and more. “If you want to support inclusion, that’s what you support,” she said.
Wong-Tam also noted city staff told council that Pride’s stance was closely examined and found not to violate any city policies on discrimination or inclusion.
Councillor Neethan Shan, who in February won a Ward 42 byelection and became Toronto’s first Tamil-Canadian councillor, said he wants more, not less, city money to flow to Pride and Caribbean Carnival as a way to help combat “systemic inequities and historic disadvantages placed” on members of those communities.
He urged council to reject Campbell’s motion, which, he said, was an attempt to “micromanage” Pride and was a misunderstanding of the idea of inclusion.
“If you let everybody in without addressing power and privilege, you actually are going to send some of the people out by default of that decision,” he said.
Mayor John Tory wants to see uniformed police back in the Pride parade.
However, both Pride’s executive director Olivia Nuamah and Saunders have told him that cutting Pride’s funding would hurt their efforts to bridge the gap and try to make everyone feel welcome at the celebration, and he agreed.
His deputy mayor, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, disagreed, saying he was standing up for “the public” in voting with Campbell to cut the funding unless uniformed officers are welcome.
“I think the public are saying ‘Stop, no, not this time. What they’re (Pride) doing is wrong and I don’t want my money going to this event,’ ” Minnan-Wong said.
Councillor Jon Burnside, a former police officer, said the city should not lower its standards of inclusion.
“Surely these officers have as much right to march in uniform in Pride, and with pride, as anyone else.”
Pride co-chair Alica Hall welcomed council’s continued funding for the festival which city staff estimate gets huge crowds, including many tourists, and pumps big bucks into the local economy.
“It’s an important testament to the cultural and economic impact we have in this city, and, so, we’ve very excited and very pleased with the support of council,” Hall told reporters.
However, some of the debate that seemed to favour inclusivity of police over everyone in the LGBTQ community was concerning, with “definite undertones of homophobia,” she said.
Campbell expressed disappointment with council’s vote and believes Pride “crossed a line politically.”
He was also disappointed Pride did not agree to his suggested compromise of allowing “a small contingent” of 20 or so uniformed officers on bicycles in the parade to “say this is the beginning of sort of healing, this is the beginning of bringing it together.”
He plans, as usual, to attend Ribfest in Etobicoke, not Pride, but he did not rule out going to Pride in 2018 if police are allowed to march in uniform.
“I heard it’s a great time.”
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