May 8, 2017
Organizers from Pride Toronto were at city hall on Monday to speak about the importance of $260,000 of municipal funding for their operations, and about a statement released Sunday night requesting police not to be in uniform, carry weapons or be in police vehicles if they participate in the parade.
Executive director Olivia Nuamah told reporters the request is being made in an effort to support those who feel vulnerable around police officers. “We are a queer festival. And certainly, queer lifestyles have not always been as accepted as they are now, and so we have found ourselves in this position many, many, many times before,” Nuamah said. “Only perhaps in the past we were just talking about people who were queer. Now we are talking about people who are marginalized. For us it’s the same difference. There are groups of people who feel that they have a right to live the way in which they want, and what we are going to do, as we have always done, is create space to make sure they feel safe enough to be themselves.”
Kristyn Wong-Tam, the councillor for Toronto Centre—Rosedale, explained the tension is based on the the number of uniformed police that have been at Pride in recent years. “It’s about the symbolism. I believe right now there’s about 12 different police services that march in pride, it goes beyond the Toronto Police… my understanding from the community members that I’ve heard from is that because there’s such a large uniform presence, they’re feeling that they themselves are not as welcome. So is there a way to move forward? I think, yes. Will it take time and some deep conversations? Absolutely. But for those officers who don’t feel like they are welcome, I think what they need to know is that they are welcome. Period.”
Toronto Police Service confirmed Monday they are not participating in the parade. “Chief Saunders announced some time ago that the Toronto Police Service was withdrawing from participating in the Pride Parade. Any member who wishes to march, not in uniform, is free to do so,” Toronto Police spokesperson Mark Pugash wrote in a statement.
When asked to clarify the TPS’s position on members marching as representatives of the force, not in uniform, and whether there is a policy that allows members to make their own T-shirts indicating they are members of the force, Pugash did not respond.
Councillor John Campbell, who has previously spoken out against funding for Pride based on the dispute with police, thinks Pride’s request of police is not fair. “It’s a bit of playing politics I think on the part of Pride, and to say that they’re welcome, but how do you know they’re police officers unless they’re wearing some identifiable clothing that says they’re police officers? They could be working at Tim Horton’s for all we know,” he told reporters after the meeting.
Nuamah had some suggestions for reporters earlier. “They can wear T-shirts that say the Toronto Police Service — I cannot even begin to imagine the array of options involved in identifying yourself as a police officer outside of wearing your uniform, with weapons, and with a police vehicle.”
Campbell conceded he could get behind that idea. “If they are wearing T-shirts that say ‘Toronto Police,’ I’m not going to have a problem with that, I don’t think, because this is not a hill to die on for me… I believe in being flexible and generous of spirit, but if they can find some means by which Toronto’s police can proudly participate in the parade and be willing participants and be identifiable participants, then that’s fine with me.”
Mayor Tory’s office emailed a statement of support for the organization the morning of the committee meeting, after the mayor attended the committee when there was no quorum to make sure that the committee took place.
The committee passed the motion, granting $260,000 in funding to the committee for its operations. No other organizations receiving money attended the meeting.