Pride flag raising overshadowed by Ford's absence
Web Staff, cp24.com
Published Monday, June 27, 2011 8:22PM EDT
More criticism is being levelled at Mayor Rob Ford after he missed a Pride Week event at city hall Monday, just days after he decided not to walk in the festival's annual parade.
In another long-standing tradition, the rainbow flag is raised outside city hall every Pride Week but this year's event was overshadowed by Ford's absence, which brought jeers from a crowd at Nathan Phillips Square.
Already feeling jilted by the mayor's decision to miss the parade, people in the crowd chanted "The mayor doesn't care" and "Where's Rob Ford?" during the one-hour public event.
Later, Ford explained his absence to CTV, saying he missed the flag raising, which was attended by several city council members, because he had a confidential meeting scheduled with Toronto Maple Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke.
At 2 p.m., Ford wrote this tweet about the meeting: "Brian Burke thanks for meeting. The ACC is a wonderful facility that all of Toronto enjoys. I appreciate the walk through."
City Coun. Frances Nunziata was heckled when she told the crowd she was attending the event on Ford's behalf.
Boos erupted each time Nunziata mentioned the mayor's name while reading the Pride Week proclamation.
Emcee Kristyn Wong-Tam, a city councillor, settled the hecklers down, but Nunziata fanned the flames moments later, telling audience members that they were free to leave if they didn't want to be there.
Many in the crowd continued to heckle and boo as Nunziata read the proclamation.
The flag, however, was raised to a chorus of cheers.
Francisco Alvarez, co-chair of Pride, said that he was "disappointed but not really too surprised" by Ford's absence from the event.
While he understand that the mayor has a busy schedule, Alvarez said it was important for the mayor to be involved with the event.
"I think it's very important for the mayor to symbolically show that Toronto is completely behind an event of this importance," Alvarez said.
Ford to miss parade
Ford was criticized last week for choosing not to attend next Sunday's Pride parade, which falls on Canada Day weekend.
Instead, Ford is spending the weekend with his family at his cottage because, he explained, it's a Canada Day tradition for the Fords.
It's become a tradition for Toronto's mayor to march in the Pride parade. This year's parade is the first to be held with Ford as the city's mayor.
Former mayor Barbara Hall attended Monday's flag raising event. She was Toronto's first mayor to march in the parade while she was in office in the 1990s.
"It's about celebrating, it's about being inclusive, it's about reinforcing that equality rights for this community are very, very important," Hall told CP24.
Hall said she hopes that Ford will participate in Pride Week.
"Questions are out there and it's incumbent upon him … to make this community feel included," Hall said.
Ford still welcome: Pride organizer
Pride co-chair Francisco Alvarez said Ford is still welcome to attend the parade or any other Pride Week events.
"We think it's a very important symbol for the mayor to attend, in terms of showing how the city supports this very important part of the citizenry of Toronto," Alvarez told CP24. "Toronto really does portray itself as a progressive and very diverse city, the mayor needs to be part of that message."
As for Nunziata's remarks to the jeering crowd, Alvarez said he hoped it would have been handled differently.
"It's a little bit indicative of the attitude of some of the members of council," Alvarez said. "Here you are at our event, they're proclaiming our week and the mayor's representative is inviting us to leave."
Activist Brent Hawkes, senior pastor at Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, is hoping Ford makes an appearance at at least one Pride event.
"Certainly, people are disappointed (because) we had such a tradition with the mayor being a key part of Pride," Hawkes told CP24. "But, there are other events. We've got to build a bridge to the mayor and we'll work on doing that."
Pride Week began last Friday and ends with Sunday's parade. Several events are planned during the 10-day festival. This year's theme is "dream big."
With a report from CP24's Nathan Downer