Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders has announced that the police service will be withdrawing its application to participate in this year’s Pride Parade amid tension between the police and Toronto’s gay community.

In a statement released Tuesday, Saunders said he had hoped to see uniformed officers march in this year’s parade but decided to withdraw at the request of the community.

The news comes just one day after Pride Toronto, as well as The 519, the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention, the Black Coalition for Aids Prevention, the Toronto People with Aids Foundation, and the Sherbourne Health Centre sent an open letter to Saunders, calling for the police service to withdraw its application.

“I am conscious of the need to avoid any setback that might undermine the principle objective of coming together and restoring confidence,” Saunders said. “In light of the concerns expressed in yesterday’s letter to me, I will be withdrawing the application we have made to the organizing committee of the Pride Parade.”

In Pride Toronto’s letter, the group said that marching in the parade would not “contribute” to solving issues between the police service and the community.

“The relationship cannot be mended through a parade,” the statement read.

“They are beyond the reach of symbolic gestures. Our communities live with ongoing, deeply rooted, and historical trauma which has too often been caused by the institutions that claim to represent us.”

The group pointed to the recent arrest of accused serial killer Bruce McArthur as a contributing factor to the tension between police and the community.

The group called the investigation into the disappearances of the murdered men “insufficient” and said community knowledge and expertise was “not accessed.”

“Despite the fact that many of us felt and voiced our concerns, we were dismissed. This has severely shaken out community’s already often tenuous trust in the city’s law enforcement. We feel more vulnerable than ever,” the statement continued.

“At the end of June, we will come together, as we have for decades, and we will be seen. We will rally and rise, but it will be with heavy hearts, as we have not yet begun to grapple with our anger, shock, and grief.”

Saunders said he hopes the withdrawal will be viewed as a “concrete example” that he is listening to the community and added that he is “committed to building a better, stronger relationship.”

“Much more work is needed, of course. But hopefully this moment moves us forward in an important way,” the chief said.

“I strongly believe that we should be working toward a time when this issue is no longer a point of controversy and where the participation of our members in the Pride Parade is accepted and welcomed. The Toronto Police Service will work hard over the course of the next year toward that end and, ideally, the 2019 Pride Parade will offer an opportunity to demonstrate that progression.”

In a statement issued on Tuesday afternoon, Mayor John Tory said the decision made by the Toronto Police Service comes as they focus on “the objective of unity and restored confidence.”

“This is important work, and I thank the LGBT2Q community organizations who are engaged in improving relations with police at this difficult time,” Tory said in the statement. “I’m confident that Chief Saunders will take meaningful action to address the issues that have been raised. I intend to continue to offer constructive leadership in this process whenever it will be helpful.”

“The annual Pride celebration remains an important time for our city, and I look forward to an event that once again reflects the vibrancy, diversity and strength of our LGBT2Q community and indeed the entire City of Toronto.”

TPA president calls withdrawal a 'setback'

Speaking to CP24 on Tuesday, Olivia Nuamah, of Pride Toronto, said she hopes this acts as a “springboard” to more meaningful conversations.

“These are very difficult conversations,” she said. “What we are talking about is cultural, institutional change, and that requires a completely different kind of input.”

Toronto Police Union President Mike McCormack said he sees the withdrawal as a “setback.”

“I just think we have to get to a point to move forward on the relationship and I don’t think this is a positive step at all,” he said.

“We need people at the table to have these conversations but I don’t think this move drives people to the table… We need to stop driving the wedge between policing and community.”