Const. Danielle Bottineau won't lie, she wants to march in the Pride parade. But the officer who serves as the force's LGBT liason says the Toronto Police Service will keep working to improve its relationship with the gay community.
Pride Toronto and Chief Mark Saunders agreed uniformed officers wouldn't march in this year's parade — a demand made by Black Lives Matter Toronto during a demonstration that brought last year's event to a standstill. That group, and others, say the presence of armed officers is intimidating for some people taking part in the annual festivities.
The controversial decision means that for the first time since 2000, police officers won't make the turn from Bloor Street on to Yonge, an emotional experience Bottineau called "overwhelming."
Bottineau, who has marched for the last decade, said she sometimes thinks of the first officers who took to the streets.
"If it wasn't for members that were willing to put themselves out there in uniform, we wouldn't be where we are today," she told CBC Toronto.
Bottineau and other officers can march in the parade without their uniforms, but she said that doesn't seem right to her. The force will, of course, provide security for the major downtown event, which begins at Bloor and Church streets at 2 p.m. on Sunday, and will roll down Yonge to Gerrard.
Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam said she appreciates Bottineau's work, but said police don't need to be in a parade to foster acceptance and respect for LGBT members in the workforce.
"Pride is political," she said.
"If the police really want to be allies, and if the police really want to support the LGBT community, I would hope that they'd be able to recognize that."
Rainbow flag still flying at police HQ
Pride month has seen other firsts for police in recent years.
In 2005, the 25th Pride parade, Bill Blair became the first Toronto police chief to march. Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno reported Blair won warm applause and didn't look the least bit uncomfortable.
Last year, Saunders, who also attends the parade, apologized for the 1981 bathhouse raids.
And this year, the Pride flag is flying above police headquarters for the first time ever.
Bottineau said the force genuinely wants to improve its relationship with the community, but it also has work to do internally.
"We need to still break down some walls and some barriers and some issues around homophobia and transphobia," she said.
Wong-Tam said that while police have made changes, it's still a pretty short list. She also brought up several controversial investigations, including one last summer at an Etobicoke park that mainly resulted in gay men being arrested.
Both Wong-Tam and Bottineau, who is part of the talks between Pride Toronto and police, said it's too soon to say whether or not uniformed officers will be part of future parades.
Bottineau said for now, all she wants is for people to enjoy the weekend of celebrations and be safe. The hard conversations, she said, will happen later.