The union representing Toronto police officers is calling on the city to eliminate a $260,000 grant given to Pride amid an ongoing controversy over the organization’s decision to ban police floats from its annual parade.
In a letter released Wednesday, members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer internal support network for the Toronto Police Service say that it would be “unacceptable” for the city to continue on as a sponsor of an event which is excluding police. The signatories go on to urge councillors to reconsider the issuing of the grant.
The request comes after the majority of those in attendance at Pride Toronto’s Annual General Meeting in January voted in favour of an unexpected motion to adopt a list of demands made by Black Lives Matter – Toronto, including the banning of police floats from the parade.
Police Chief Mark Saunders then released a statement in February, announcing that the TPS would not formally participate in pride other than by providing security and hosting their annual pride reception. It should be noted that Pride Toronto has said that police officers are still welcome to participate in the parade as members of the public.
The city provides more than $1 million in annual support for Pride Toronto, including $750,000 in free services, mostly in the form of policing. The $260,000 is provided to pride as part of an annual grant.
“At our request, we would like the association to consider sharing with the mayor and city councillors that we, as city employees, would feel completely de-valued and unsupported by our employer should they fund this event at this time,” the letter states. “How can we possibly feel appreciated by our employer while they sponsor an event that its own employees have been disinvited from participating in as full, equal, and active participants in their role as city employees?”
Protesters halted last year’s parade
Last July, members of Black Lives Matter- Toronto staged a sit-in protest at the parade to draw attention to a number of issues relating to pride and its inclusion, or lack thereof, of the black community.
The parade was halted for nearly 30 minutes as a result of the protest and only resumed after former Pride Toronto executive director Mathieu Chantelois signed a list of demands.
Chantelois later recanted on those demands but subsequently resigned from his position.
Then in September, Pride Toronto released a statement apologizing for a "history of anti-blackness and repeated marginalization of the marginalized.”
Speaking with CP24 on Wednesday, Pride Toronto’s new executive director Olivia Nuamah refused to comment on the request to cut the grant given to her organization but said that the letter itself contributes to a conversation that is ongoing.
That conversation, she said, concerns making sure the parade is “fully reflective of everybody’s experience.”
“It contributes to this dialogue that we are trying to create. We want to undertsand how every member of our community thinks and feels about Pride Toronto and about participating in the parade. So we are happy to get as much feedback as we can about what that should look and feel like,” she said. “Black Lives Matter isn’t putting pressure on us; we are putting pressure on ourselves. We want to do better at undertsanding how our whole community thinks and feels.”
Nuamah said that Pride Toronto is already participating in a “constructive dialogue” with police concerning the potential for their participation in future pride parades.
Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack, however, said his officers “have been told they are not welcome” at pride.
He said that pride should not be given public funds if it is not a public event.
“It is not about the amount of money; it is about how do you have an event that is supported by this city where they are being exclusive instead of inclusive and saying police officers aren’t welcome? It is very frustrating for them,” he said of his officers earlier in the day. “If pride wants to have an exclusive event then they shouldn’t rely on taxpayer dollars.”
McCormack said that his members feel that they have been “thrown under a bus” by the leadership of pride.
He added that the feeling is prevalent among a large number of officers.
“It is not a small group of officers. This is how our officers feel,” he said. “You don’t have to be a part of the LGBTQ community to feel this way.”
Black Lives Matter - Toronto has previously said that police floats are a symbol of oppression for some members of the community and should not have a place at the parade.
Hashim Yussuf, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter – Toronto, told CP24 on Wednesday that the group is simply reflecting the wishes of the community in opposing the presence of police at the parade.
“We are not dictating anything that the police or the city should do. This is what the community wants,” he said. “There are black queer members of the community and black trans members of the community who are uncomfortable going to the parade very year and seeing the police forces represented like that.”
Yussuf said that in his mind there “no reason “ for the letter issued Wednesday since LGBTQ police officers are welcome at the parde.
“Like we have said time and time again individual queer police officers can come to the parade but not represent the Toronto Police Service as an institution, an institution that routinely discriminates against queer, racialized and black people in this city,” he said.
Tory not supportive of move to cut grant
In March, Coun. John Campbell told CP24 that he was considering putting forward a motion that asks staff to hold off issuing the $260,000 grant until Pride Toronto can reaffirm “their value of inclusivity.” Campbell, however, did not table the motion during a subsequent meeting and it is unclear whether he will table the motion when council meets next week.
Asked whether he would support a move to eliminate the grant given to Pride Toronto on Wednesday, Mayor Tory said he doesn’t believe “today is the day for a threat or an ultimatum.”
“I think the best way to resolve this is the way they are trying to resolve it now, which is for Pride and the police service in particular to be meeting with each other and having these discussions,” he said. “I don’t think it is the day to start making noise about funding or in-kind services. We will let those discussions take their course.”
Tory added that he “supports the inclusion of police officers” at pride and “respects the fact” that some officers feel excluded but doesn’t believe “wading in” on the issue of funding would be “constructive.”