Ottawa

Capital Pride, police at odds over officers in uniform at parade

Capital Pride's request for police not to wear uniforms at the August parade in Ottawa has sparked a heated debate over how best to make the event more inclusive, and prompted some officers, including the city's police chief, to say they plan to wear their uniforms anyway.

'You are hurting your allies' says one police officer

Ottawa police have agreed not to have a vehicle in this year's Capital Pride parade, but the police chief says off-duty officers are free to wear their uniforms at the event. (Ottawa Police Service)

Capital Pride's request for police not to wear uniforms at the upcoming parade in Ottawa has sparked a heated debate over how best to make the event more inclusive, and prompted some officers, including the city's police chief, to say they plan to wear their uniforms anyway.

The request isn't about excluding people from the August event, but about making people of colour feel safe, Tammy Dopson, Capital Pride board chair, told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Thursday.

But some in the LGBT community have publicly questioned the decision, including police officers who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Const. Alex Lewis, a longtime Ottawa resident who recently became an officer — though not with the Ottawa Police Service — wrote an opinion piece criticizing Pride's decision, calling it misguided.

"The officers who march in Pride aren't the bigots. You are hurting your allies, the ones who want to change the system from within," Lewis said.

Lewis, who also sits on the board of the police liaison committee with the LGBT community, says he's considering participating in Pride wearing the Pride rainbow and his uniform.

Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau said he will be wearing his uniform in the Pride parade this year, despite a request from organizers for officers not to do so. (CBC News)

Police chief to march in uniform

Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau had previously stated police would honour Pride's request to not have a vehicle at the parade, but said officers would be free to choose whether to wear a uniform or not.

He said after reading Lewis's opinion piece he too will be at the parade in uniform. While he acknowledges the decision may create a backlash, he said wearing the uniform is important for police members who identify as LGBT.

"I want to show that I support them and march alongside them," he said.

At least one member of the Ottawa Police Service who identifies as LGBT said she plans to march with Bordeleau in her uniform.

Won't hide being gay any longer, says one officer

Staff Sgt. Sandra Sparling, a watch commander with the patrol division, released a statement Thursday through the police service saying she will follow Bordeleau's lead and "proudly walk beside him."

"I spent 13 years in the military hiding the fact that I was gay," she wrote.

"In 2001, I joined the Ottawa Police Service and decided that I would no longer hide who I am, a gay female officer.  My goal was to change people's mindset, especially officers' views, one person at a time, about the LGBT community. I was welcomed with open arms.

"As an openly gay officer, I am heartbroken to think that my own LGBT community does not welcome me, because I serve in blue. I'm proud of being openly gay and proud of being a police officer, this is who I am."

Pride board chair Dopson acknowledged the decision has prompted "quite a bit of negative backlash," but said the decision was not made lightly.

 "I am heartbroken to think that my own LGBT community does not welcome me, because I serve in blue."-Staff Sgt. Sandra Sparling

"This discussion has been divisive … everywhere. I don't think anyone can deny that. Our board came to this conclusion after a lot of discussion — I'm talking months — and we decided that this was still the best course of action to truly make our festival inclusive of everyone. And that includes, particularly, our folks of colour, [of whom] many, again, do not feel comfortable when we are allowing police to participate with use of force uniforms," she said.

'More work needs to be done'

"We're not asking anyone to exclude themselves," Dopson said. We're asking everyone to include themselves, but in a way that makes everyone feel safe," Dopson said.

"We absolutely agree there's been incredible, tremendous gains made in the relationship between our police forces and the LGBTQ community. We're not denying that. What we're saying is that more work needs to be done … so that it extends to our persons of colour in the community."

Bordeleau also acknowledged more work needs to be done and said police want to work with those "that feel the relationship between the police service and their community is not where it should be."

But he said telling police to not be present in uniform at the parade doesn't help.

"Not to be present in the parade in our uniform, in my thoughts and feelings, is a step back and not conducive to having those conversations and those relationships," he said.