Montreal

Montreal Pride organizer says parade was cancelled because hiring staff was 'never done'

The executive director of Montreal Pride said the lack of security staff that forced the last-minute cancellation of Sunday's parade boils down to an oversight: People needed to be hired and they hadn't been.

Tens of thousands of people were expected to attend parade on Sunday

Two people are dancing
Florence, left, and Billie dance at the site where the Montreal Pride parade was supposed to start from in Montreal, Sunday, August 7, 2022. Festival organizers cancelled the parade over concerns for security due to the lack of staff. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The reasons behind the shocking, last-minute cancellation of Montreal's Pride parade can be boiled down to a simple yet glaring oversight, according to the event's lead organizer: a failure to hire security staff.

The parade was cancelled on Sunday morning, just hours before it was set to kick off.

In an interview with CBC Montreal's Daybreak host Sean Henry, Simon Gamache said that was when he learned "about 100" security staff needed to monitor the parade route had not been hired.

"It was never done," said Gamache, Montreal Pride's executive director.

"It's something we're going to investigate. As you can imagine, we're taking it very seriously. I don't want to speculate at this moment," he said.

"Obviously, I am the executive director for this organization so ultimately I am the person responsible for this."

With tens of thousands of expected spectators and participants left disappointed — some holding impromptu events on their own —  Gamache is left having to explain what went wrong, why and what it all means for the future of the organization.

According to him, a lack of volunteers was a constant challenge this year, but overall the event had hired enough staff for the weeklong festivities and to provide security during the parade.

But people were never specifically hired and assigned to parade security, said Gamache, who has been the organization's executive director for less than a year.

Sunday's march would have been the city's first large-scale Pride parade since the start of the pandemic.

Initially, Montreal Pride had tweeted that the decision to cancel the event was made in collaboration with Montreal police. The organization later corrected its statement, saying the decision was made by the organizers alone.

Crowds braved the rain at the Esplanade du Parc Olympique on Sunday evening to catch the remaining festival events. (Sean Henry/CBC)

The cancellation caught a lot of people off guard, including Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante.

"If we had been made aware of the lack of staff or anything else, [we] would have put in the necessary energy," the mayor said during a news conference on Sunday.

"My frustration this morning is realizing that it seems there were decisions made, but we were never informed, and that's disappointing."

In a tweet, Montreal police emphasized that it was not involved in the decision to cancel the parade and that it was ready to help with event security.

Leadership under scrutiny

Businesses in Montreal's Village that had been eagerly awaiting a wave of clientele during the parade took the news of the cancellation especially hard, according to the merchants' association. 

"Some of my merchants were crying because it's the big day of the year for the Village so everyone was quite upset that the parade didn't go on," said Gabrielle Rondy, executive director of the group. 

Rondy said it's too early to know what the repercussions of the cancellations will be for businesses, but she will be speaking with merchants in the coming days to take stock and see if she can offer support.

Meanwhile, Zahra Haider, a queer Muslim writer and activist in Montreal, said leaders at Montreal Pride need to be held accountable — and possibly replaced. 

"Pride is a really important space for marginalized, oppressed people to celebrate together and to come together and share their struggle and their joy," they said. 

"I would hope that they would appoint leadership that are from the QTBIPOC (Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous People of Color) community, like racialized queer folks that understand the struggle, who understand how important it is." 

Simon Gamache says he wants to stay on as Montreal Pride's executive director, but it's up to the board of directors to decide. (Jean-Baptiste Demouy/Radio-Canada)

Others, like Samuel Miriello, believe the current director is doing his best and should be given another chance. 

"I want to see Simon Gamache stay. I think he's an impeccable worker, he's an all-star, I think he will definitely learn from this mistake and I'm excited to see his vision for the next few years," said the director of human resources and partnerships at REZO, a community group. 

Organizer says it was too late 

As a result of the abrupt cancellation, members of Montreal's 2SLGBTQIA+ communities immediately started co-ordinating off-site events.

A sit-in at Place Émilie-Gamelin in the city's downtown core was planned to protest the cancellation. A crowd of would-be parade-goers gathered there to march down Ste-Catherine Street.

"We were promised a place for our voices to be heard and now it's been taken away," said Salem Billard, a queer activist who planned the protest. "We're now living through so much violence, even going to Pride events.… And we want to take back that place as our home and not a corporate festival [event]."

It was impossible to salvage the event, since so many people would have needed to be hired but also trained in just a matter of hours, Gamache said.

"There's a whole [set of] logistics around this event. It's not simple. And we felt that we could not ensure a safe parade for the community," he said.

When asked how the cancellation would affect his future as Montreal Pride's executive director, Gamache said "I am not the one deciding."

"I want to stay. I was hired last September to restructure this organization and that takes several years to do," he said. 

The executive director said the event's sponsors have been supportive and none of them have asked for their money back. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Antoni Nerestant is a journalist at CBC Montreal.

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak, Jennifer Yoon and Kwabena Oduro

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