Day-long debate at council about Pride Toronto

11:06 a.m. May 26, 2017 From left to right: Kevin Rambally (board co-chair, Pride Toronto); Ryan Connelly (communications & community relations manager of Pride Toronto); Olivia Nuamah (executive director, Pride Toronto) and Brent Hawkes (senior pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto).

May 26, 2017

After a day-long debate, Toronto city council moved forward to give Pride Toronto, the organization that produces the Pride parade and other events, a grant for $260,000.

The controversy over the grant is a result of Pride Toronto’s decision to exclude uniformed police at this year’s parade, after Black Lives Matter activists held up last year’s march in protest of their presence. Toronto police’s response has been to step back from the parade and to continue participating in conversations with the organization.

During the debate, City Councillor John Campbell brought a motion that asked that the grant be conditional on the organization welcoming uniformed officers back into the parade. Councillors Jon Burnside and Michael Ford gave impassioned speeches about supporting queer police officers at Pride. Councillor Jaye Robinson talked about one of her residents, a police officer who wrote her a letter, based on his experience, speaking to the importance of feeling comfortable in the parade.

On the other side of the debate was the majority of council, including Mayor John Tory, who supported Pride Toronto’s self-determination. Pride organizers told reporters after the debate that they are still in conversations with police.

In the hours before the debate, city councillors drilled down on all sides of the issue in their questions to city staff. Councillor James Pasternak approached the issue through questions about council’s ability to determine inclusion.

“The decision before council today is whether this grant is in the interest of the city,” city solicitor Wendy Walberg told the council chambers in the morning. “That’s the statutory permission given to council to make a grant, and if council in good faith decides that this is not in the interests of the city, it’s entitled to make that decision on the grant. The caveats are that the discretion must be exercised in good faith and cannot be contrary to law.”

Pasternak, who voted in favour of giving the grant to Pride, seemed unsatisfied with the response. “I don’t know what governments are for if they can’t impose inclusion, I don’t know what we’re doing here if we can’t impose more rights and more inclusion. If we can’t impose more rights and more inclusion, I thought that’s why we’re here.”

The day-long debate at council also marked a shift in the way Toronto’s LGBTQ2S movement functions. “In the old days, we’d have a small number of organizations and we could get those organizations together,” Reverend Brent Hawkes of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto said after the vote. “We could wrestle with something and come up with a decision. We had a few vehicles of communication that we were able to disseminate that decision out to the community and it was much more cohesive. And we were held together as a community, artificially, by the threat to human rights.

“As we’ve achieved more human rights, and as the community has become more and more diverse, it’s harder and harder to get opinions, it’s harder to educate the community. ”

Related story:

Pride requests no police uniforms, weapons or vehicles at parade — but officers are OK (May 8, 2017)

On the police side of the issue, the day-long debate brought some focus, not only to a police culture that has it’s own inclusion challenges, but also to the implications for allowing uniformed officers to march in a civilian parade. This is especially relevant after last year’s parade happening so soon after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.

Councillor Frank Di Giorgio contemplated this throughout the day. “I’m trying to reconcile whether someone who makes a voluntary decision to march in the parade in their uniform could theoretically make the case that they are on duty. Because the reality is, if something were to happen … I wouldn’t expect only the police officers who are on the perimeter [to participate in keeping people safe].

“If I were in a parade and I were a police officer wearing my uniform, or even if I weren’t wearing my uniform and something happened, I would probably go back to my training and get engaged as a police officer and make sure that we maintain the safety of people in that area.”