Calgary Pride says police did not apply to march in this year's parade

Calgary Pride says the Calgary Police Service will not be marching in this year's pride parade, because the organization did not apply.

Pride policy hasn't allowed officers to march in uniform since 2016

Calgary police march in uniform in the 2016 pride parade. CPS has not applied to march this year, but Calgary Pride says officers are welcome to participate as civilians, out of uniform. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

Calgary Pride says the Calgary Police Service will not march in this year's parade because the organization did not apply.

Pride said in a news release Monday that it was in touch with CPS, along with three groups that had applied to participate in the parade in police, military or paramilitary uniform. Pride communicated that its policy has not changed: it does not allow groups of that nature to participate in uniform.

"Calgary Pride has a positive working relationship with Calgary Police Service; further, we recognize that individual officers and many leaders within the police service have contributed immeasurably to the safety and well being of our community members and we thank them for that," the organization said.

"Regional experiences of police vary, and racialized communities continue to receive differential treatment from law enforcement. This statement is equally true in Calgary and in particular, it is especially true for members of our Indigenous community.

"Calgary Police Service understands the complexity of this issue, and in order to honour the space needed for marginalized and sometimes vulnerable members of our community to feel a sense of belonging, they did not submit an application to participate in the parade."

Police encouraged to participate out of uniform

Pride is instead encouraging officers to participate out of uniform as civilians, "potentially within their favourite community groups, churches, or as alumni of their alma mater."

Calgary police confirmed in an emailed statement to CBC News that the force won't be formally taking part in the parade.

"The Calgary Police Service did not apply to participate in the Pride Parade this year and we were not selected by Calgary Pride's jury to participate in Pride in the Park. We do not plan on applying again in the future," the statement said.

"After extensive consultations the last few years with Calgary Pride, our Gender and Sexual Diversity Advisory Board, our members and the community, we believe it is best that we only participate in Pride events when we are invited to do so by organizers.

"Questions about police participation in Pride can distract from the overall message of the movement. Withdrawing from these events ensures the discussion stays focused on the important issues facing this community. Pride belongs to Calgary's gender and sexually diverse community and we believe the focus should entirely be on celebrating and advocating for LGBTQ2S+ Calgarians."

Similar stances in other cities

The decision not to allow uniformed police to march in Calgary's Pride Parade came after the 2016 event. It followed similar moves in Toronto and Vancouver, where organizers request officers participate in plain clothes.

Calgary Pride said some members of the community have reason to distrust police, due to a substantive history of homophobia, transphobia and racism in policing institutions that continues to this day.

When the change was announced in advance of the 2017 parade, Calgary's then police chief expressed disappointment.

"We are obviously disappointed with the decision that police will not be allowed to march in uniform, but we are not going to allow it to undo decades of progress between law enforcement and the LGBTQ community in Calgary," Roger Chaffin said.

CBC News has reached out to Calgary's current police chief for comment.

Calgary Pride said it's their understanding that when the new chief was asked about police participation in the parade, "he answered based on honouring the complexity of his institution's history and acknowledging those personnel who are both allies and members of the gender and sexually diverse community."

Last year, Calgary police issued a formal apology for their past treatment of the LGBTQ2S+ community.

The apology touched on policing before homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969, decisions not to issue permits for Pride parades in the 1980s, and a 2002 police raid on a local bathhouse.

Calgary's first pride march was held in 1980, when marchers defied the lack of a police permit and walked in protest to city hall. The first official parade wasn't held until 1991.

This year's parade takes place on Sept. 1 at 11 a.m. along Sixth Avenue downtown.

Alberta Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Leela Aheer was joined by members of the community and a representative from city hall as the Pride flag was raised at the McDougall Centre, the government's southern Alberta headquarters, on Monday.

"Raising the Pride flag is a symbol of our government's commitment to build safe communities where LGTBTQ2S+ people can live and love free from prejudice," she said.

"For everyone taking part in the celebrations this week, happy Pride."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener