A key council committee has approved the unconditional allocation of city funds to Toronto's Pride Festival after an impassioned debate over whether the organizers of the event were in compliance with the city's anti-discrimination policy.
The executive committee voted unanimously Thursday night in favour of funding the festival after hearing from more than 50 citizens.
"I'm pleasantly surprised it was unanimous. It's one less obstacle for us," said Francisco Alavarez, the co-chair of Pride Toronto, the group that organizes the festival.
The simmering controversy began after some councillors questioned whether the participation of the activist group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) in the Pride Festival should warrant the revocation of city funding for the event.
QuAIA marched in the Pride parade last year, a move Jewish advocacy groups and some mayoral candidates had criticized.
A city staff report in April had ruled the term "'Israeli Apartheid" does not violate the city's anti-discrimination policy and that funding for Pride should not be contingent on the participation of QuAIA. But some councillors, including Doug Holyday and Giorgio Mammoliti, disagreed.
QuAIA has since said it would withdraw from the festival and hold a separate event on the day of the parade, but Mammoliti said that wasn't enough. He said he would introduce a motion that would make funding of the festival contingent on a written guarantee by Pride Toronto that QuAIA would not participate.
But after hearing assurances from Pride Toronto on Tuesday that it would escort QuAIA members from Pride-sanctioned events, Mammoliti decided against introducing such a motion.
"People are allowed to participate and I understand that and know that," said Mammoliti. "But if QuAIA thinks they are going to continue to do what they've done over the last number of years and get away with it, this councillor will defend the Jewish community, and I'll do it in an aggressive way."
Payout to come after event
Len Rudner, the Ontario regional director of the Canadian Jewish Congress, was one of those who spoke to the committee Tuesday.
"From our point of view, the message of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid is discriminatory, hateful and anti-Semitic," he said.
Sue Weinstein, who is Jewish and used to belong to QuAIA, said the parade was always a political event in which a wide array of groups participated.
"The parade, the march, they have always been political," she said. "I can remember being part of pride many many years ago in various different cities and it was not always a comfortable parade."
The funding will only be paid out after the July festival concludes, the committee ruled. If the city finds that the group participates, the city can withhold the money.
QuAIA claims Israel has an "apartheid system" that extends gay rights to only some people, and that the country's treatment of Palestinians constitute apartheid. Jewish groups have dismissed that assertion as inaccurate and call the group discriminatory.
Toronto contributed $123,807 to pride week last year, around five per cent of the festival's operating budget, according to the city. It also provided free garbage pickup and cleanup, estimated to cost around $250,000.