Black Lives Matter leads alternative Pride march in Vancouver

The only uniformed Vancouver police officers at the Black Lives Matter March on Pride this weekend were watching from the sidelines.

Controversy over police in Pride has prompted racist remarks, threats, organizers say

Daniella Barreto, one of the organizers of Black Lives Matter Vancouver's March on Pride, says she's never felt comfortable at mainstream Pride event. (Alex Lamic CBC News)

The only uniformed Vancouver police officers at the Black Lives Matter March on Pride this weekend were watching from the sidelines.

The Sunday event at Emery Barnes Park in downtown Vancouver was organized in response to the continued presence of police officers in Vancouver's mainstream Pride parade, organizers said.

They were also protesting what they described as rising corporate involvement in the city's annual Pride parade.

"As a black queer person in Vancouver, I have never felt that there was an event that felt good or safe for me to go to," Daniella Barreto said.

Black Lives Matter Vancouver organized the March on Pride in response to the continued official police presence in the city's annual Pride parade. (Alex Lamic CBC News)

The local chapter of Black Lives Matter has been pushing to end the official police entry in Pride for the last year, arguing that many members of the LGBTQ community have had negative experiences with officers.

They also point out that Pride began as a protest that grew out of the Stonewall riots in New York City, where transgender women of colour were at the forefront of LGBTQ demonstrations in response to a police raid of a gay bar.

The debate over police participation in Pride began last year in Toronto, when members of Black Lives Matter held a protest that stalled the annual parade for about an hour. Pride Toronto has opted to ban uniformed officers from the parade.

Pride to limit police presence

This year, the Vancouver Pride Society and police agreed that officers will march as part of the City of Vancouver entry to the parade instead of on a separate float as they have in previous years. Police vehicles and the use of sirens will no longer be allowed in the march, scheduled for August 6.

However, about 20 per cent of officers will still wear their uniforms.

Cicely-Belle Blain is one of the organizers of Black Lives Matter Vancouver's 2017 March on Pride. (Alex Lamic CBC News)

Supporters of Black Lives Matter say the compromise doesn't fully address their concerns.

"As queer and trans people of colour, we don't feel safe in a parade that celebrates a violent institution that consistently contributes to violence against black, Indigenous and people of colour," Barreto said.

She said that while she believes Vancouver police have a more inclusive and peaceful image than their U.S. counterparts, the department's interactions with the black and Indigenous communities have generated criticism.

Most recently, Solomon Akinoye, a black man, alleged he was beaten and wrongfully arrested in a case of mistaken identity.

The Vancouver chapter of Black Lives Matter wants to see the end of the official police entry in Pride. (Alex Lamic CBC News)

Racism, threats directed at organizers

Black Lives Matter's stance on police in Pride has attracted large numbers of racist comments and threats of violence, mainly to the group's Facebook page, organizer Cicely-Belle Blain said.

"If people recognize us in the street they'll say it to our face as well," Blain said.

"Today we have lots of security because we don't know what people's reactions will be and we feel a little bit unsafe," Blain said.

This weekend, about 100 Toronto officers and union representatives travelled to New York City to march in uniform in that city's Pride parade in response to an invitation from an American group.