Manitoba

Police union upset by Pride Winnipeg's decision against officers in uniform

The union representing Winnipeg police officers is concerned about a decision by Pride Winnipeg to prevent officers from marching in the festival’s parade in uniform.

Pride says move came after consultations with marginalized groups

Police officers will be allowed to march in Pride Winnipeg's annual parade this Sunday but not in uniform. Above, Calgary police march in a 2016 Pride parade. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

The union representing Winnipeg police officers is concerned about a decision by Pride Winnipeg to prevent officers from marching in the festival's parade in uniform.

"Quite frankly I'm a little disappointed in the organizers for making such a bold statement," said Maurice Sabourin, president of the Winnipeg Police Association. 

Sabourin said there a number of Winnipeg police officers who are part of Winnipeg's LGBT community and the decision to ban them from marching in uniform isn't fair to them or their colleagues.

"Now they're being discriminated against," he said. Pride Winnipeg announced last Friday police would be welcome to march in the Pride parade this Sunday but not in uniform with the exception of on-duty officers directing traffic.

The decision comes on the heels of an online survey and community consultations with marginalized groups in the city. Pride said an online survey it created had 600 responses with a third of respondents reporting a negative encounter with police.
Many queer and trans people in major cities say they avoid Pride because of police presence. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Experiences with mistrust, apathy and prejudice were prevalent among transgender people, two-spirited individuals and queer people of colour, Pride said.

'A bold statement'

Pride Winnipeg president Jonathan Niemczak said he wasn't surprised by the union's response and recognized it's a sensitive issue.

He defended the organization's decision and said he'd like to arrange a meeting between the police union and Pride officials to explain their reasons for their decision.

"It's a bold statement in the right direction. We listened to the underprivileged and we took action," Niemczak said.

"It's easy to call us all out without really understanding all the background and there's a lot of background."

Marginalized 'cower' at sight of police

Levi Foy, co-founder of Like That, a program at community drop-in Sunshine House which gives people — including those from marginalized communities — a space to explore their gender and sexual identity, said many involved in the program are fearful of police.
Drag queens get ready at Sunshine House, a Winnipeg drop-in centre where members of marginalized communities hang out. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

"I've literally seen people who physically cower, who will make themselves smaller if we pull up beside a police vehicle."

Foy said he was frustrated to hear the union's comments Tuesday morning.

"The police union has never come to the table and said this to us and so then it's just like a real backhand to all of us."

Union questions motive

Sabourin questioned the timing of Pride Winnipeg's decision and wondered if it was simply following in the footsteps of Pride Toronto which has also asked police officers not to march in uniform.

"I'm just assuming that it's the same motivation here that we saw in Toronto for not having police attend," Sabourin said adding "If that group is trying to incite hatred they're being successful."

Niemczak said Pride Toronto had no influence on his organization's decision.

"This was a locally made decision with local groups."

About the Author

​Austin Grabish started reporting when he was young, landing his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

with files by Meaghan Ketcheson