Sudbury

Sudbury police ditching uniforms for Pride parade

Sudbury police won't march in uniform at the city's LGBT Pride parade this weekend in the wake of a national debate on police participation in Pride parades.

Officers to wear plain clothing and walk among participants at Saturday event

Greater Sudbury police chief Paul Pedersen marches in uniform in the Sudbury Pride parade in 2015. "The uniform for some signifies a bit of insecurity. It's been seen by some as a symbol of oppression," said Pedersen. "We're hoping that this is just a point in time." (Greater Sudbury Police Service)

Sudbury police officers won't be marching in uniform at this year's Pride parade, a decision made amidst a national debate on police participation in Pride events. 

This year Toronto Pride banned uniformed officers and police floats from the parade at the request of the group Black Lives Matter.

"I don't think that any Pride organizations at this time are not talking about it," said Kelly Perras, acting chair of Sudbury Pride.

Perras said Sudbury Pride decided it still wanted police to be visible in the event this Saturday, but in a way that would acknowledge concerns that have been raised across the country.

"Certain communities have faced excessive marginalization by the police forces," she said. "I'm not just speaking about Sudbury, I'm speaking about everywhere. For those communities we have to listen." 

Instead of uniforms, officers taking part in the parade will wear plain clothes or casual police clothing, including polos and t-shirts. Officers on duty directing traffic will still wear their uniforms.

Sudbury Police 'walking the walk'

Perras said part of the decision to keep Sudbury police in the parade was because of the efforts Greater Sudbury Police have made with the LGBT community in recent years.

"Here in Sudbury, we are actually very lucky. We have a very forward-thinking police chief," she said.

"We feel like the Sudbury police force is actually taking measures. They are walking the walk. They want to help," she said.

In recent years, the police force piloted a training video showing officers how to interact with members of the transgender community. The film has been used by other forces across the country.

Police chief Paul Pedersen poses with prominent transgender activist Rita O'Link and auxiliary sergeant Andrea Benoit at the Sudbury Pride parade in 2016. Sudbury police have been taking part in the parade for the last decade. (Greater Sudbury Police Service/Facebook)

Police going for 'a softer approach'

"We know that we've made strides, but we also know there's more strides to be made," said superintendent Sheilah Weber.

Weber is a member of the force's inclusion team, which works to improve relationships with diverse groups within and outside of the organization.

"We thought if we had a softer approach this year, it might make those people who were triggered by the police uniform feel better," she said.

"Unlike other Pride parades, it's never been where we actually go with a cruiser decorated and a whole bunch of officers marching. We have always just intertwined and walked with the community."

Mixed opinions from LGBT community

Perras said members of the LGBT community in Sudbury have had mixed opinions on the decision.

Banning the uniform—but not the officers— strikes a compromise, she said.

"There are going to be people who don't want [police] involved at all. There are going to be people who want them to march in full uniform. And everything in between. And everybody's opinions are valid," she said.

Perras said police will also be taking part in other Pride events throughout the week.

Who are we to deny this olive branch?- Sudbury Pride acting Chair Kelly Perras

"We feel like, 'who are we to deny this olive branch?' Progress is progress. We have to go somewhere," she said.

"We have to remember the past, and be vigilant and be aware, but we also have to take steps forward where those steps are offered."

About the Author

Marina von Stackelberg is a CBC journalist based in Winnipeg. She previously worked for CBC in Halifax and Sudbury. Connect with her @CBCMarina or marina.von.stackelberg@cbc.ca

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