British Columbia

Police uniforms barred from 2018 Vancouver Pride parade

Police officers will not be allowed to wear their uniforms when they march in Vancouver’s Pride parade in 2018, organizers have announced.

Organizers say decision is result of consultation with LGBTQ community members

The public debate over police in Pride began in 2016. (David Horemans/CBC)

Police officers will not be allowed to wear their uniforms when they march in Vancouver's Pride parade in 2018, organizers have announced.

The decision came after organizers heard from members of the city's LGBTQ community who said a highly visible police presence made them uncomfortable, according to Vancouver Pride Society executive director Andrea Arnot.

"Everyone needs to feel safe and comfortable to be in the parade," she told CBC News. "We never set out to ban the police from being in the parade…. It was, how could they participate in the parade in a way that made people feel safe?"

The decision was made in September, but Arnot said organizers have kept it quiet while they inform community groups about the change in policy.

"We listened to a lot of voices on all sides of the issue and heard from queer people of colour, transgender folks, Indigenous two-spirit people that they had similar feelings about police participating in Pride as an institution, based on the history of oppression," Arnot said.

Debate over inclusion

The Vancouver Police Department has been told, and officers will still be included in the parade as part of the city's entry in 2018.

But Vancouver Police Union president Tom Stamatakis slammed the decision in a tweet Wednesday night, describing it as "so ridiculous...the opposite of inclusion and undermines a lot of relationship building over many years."

The public debate over police involvement in Pride began in 2016, when Black Lives Matter activists brought Toronto's parade to a temporary halt, in part because of their concerns about police participation in the parade.

That same summer, Black Lives Matter Vancouver called on police to voluntarily withdraw from the parade, writing an open letter reminding organizers that Pride has its roots in the Stonewall riots of 1969 — an event prompted by police raids on a gay bar in New York City.

In a statement, Black Lives Matter Vancouver said it was pleased with the Vancouver Pride Society's decision.

"We believe this change is a starting point for greater inclusion in LGBT communities for those who are more marginalized and we hope that this is a new tradition that continues for many years," reads the statement.

In 2017, Vancouver Pride organizers struck a compromise, allowing uniforms for about 20 per cent of marching police officers and barring all marked police vehicles.

With files from Anita Bathe