Police commit to Calgary Pride march in plain clothes after ban on uniforms, parade float

Calgary Pride welcomes police officers to march in this year's parade, but without uniforms, firearms, vehicles or "any forms of institutional representation, such as floats," says the organization.

Parade organizers say LGBT persons of colour may have 'negative associations' with official police symbols

Calgary police march in the 2016 Pride Parade. A group calling itself Voices, the coalition of Calgary's People of Colour, had asked that police not to wear their uniforms last year, but parade organizers had rejected the idea at the time. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

Calgary Pride welcomes police officers to march in this year's parade, but without uniforms, firearms, vehicles or "any forms of institutional representation, such as floats," says the organization.

"We acknowledge the historical oppression and institutionalized racism faced by queer/trans people of colour and Indigenous persons, and the potentially negative association with weapons, uniforms, and other symbols of law enforcement," reads the release from Calgary Pride.

The decisions follows similar moves taken this year in Toronto and Vancouver, where LGBT activists requested that officers participate in plain clothes.

The Calgary Police Service will still provide security at the event and will provide an opportunity for officers to march in the parade out of uniform.

"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," said Chief Roger Chaffin.

"We have a far better relationship with the LGBTQ community now than we did even 10 years ago, and we want to keep that forward momentum."

Calgary's Pride Parade will take place Sept. 3, but the organization is asking any police officers who may want to participate in the festivities to do so as individuals, without visible representation of their affiliation with law enforcement. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

Other conditions on police participation include a requirement that CPS Chief Roger Chaffin, as well as other high-ranking officers, engage in formal diversity and inclusion training "prior to displaying institutional representation within future Calgary Pride activities."

Symbols can be triggers

Jason Kingsley, president of Calgary Pride, said the presence of uniformed officers in the parade can be a barrier to some people of colour from the LGBT community.

"It's that symbol, that authoritative symbol, that weapon that can actually be triggering and traumatic for individuals who have faced oppression or faced issues," Kingsley said.

"So it's similar to things like PTSD, where sounds or sights can actually trigger these emotions or these responses, where they can relive these kind of traumatic episodes or situations that they've experienced in their lives."

In a statement, VOICES - Calgary's Coalition of People of Colour said the decision to have police attend the parade in plain clothes was reached unanimously at a meeting between CPS, Calgary Pride and Voices.

"What we have here is a symbolic step which does not eliminate police violence and misconduct, but rather opens up a discussion and first steps towards creating a community that is safe for all, and the one that truly honours the history of what Pride marches are meant to be," the coalition said in a statement.

'A step back'

As a gay man, Jim Heaton has taken part in eight of Calgary's pride parades, but he's chosen to boycott this year's in light of the new policy regarding law enforcement participation.

"This is just a step back. What they've basically done is say, 'You're free to be anybody you want, as long as you're not a police officer,'" Heaton said.

"This is no longer an inclusive pride parade. The Calgary Police Service has done a lot over the years to be inclusive in many ways," he added, noting CPS now has an LGBT liaison officer.

Heaton said he's "outraged" and that Calgary Pride's decision does not reflect the wishes of the broader LGBT community in Calgary.

"I know I, for one, won't be attending anything that's associated with Calgary Pride at all, ever again, until this is changed. And I know a number of people who are the same way."

The Calgary Pride decision was also met with a variety of responses online.

With files from Allison Dempster