Black Lives Matter got attention, but did its Pride tactics hurt or help its cause?

While people continue to debate whether Black Lives Matter Toronto's disruption of the Pride parade was justified, more important to the organization might be whether its sit-in protest will ultimately hurt or help its cause. CBC News asked some experts for their take.

Group temporarily shut down Sunday's Pride parade in Toronto

Black Lives Matter Toronto staged a sit-in protest during the annual Pride parade, temporarily halting the procession. The parade resumed after Pride Toronto organizers agreed to the group's demands. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Black Lives Matter Toronto grabbed much of the media spotlight on the weekend by staging a 30-minute disruption of the Pride parade and issuing a set of demands to organizers, including barring police floats and booths from future events.

While people continue to debate whether the group's actions were justified, what may be more important to the organization is whether its sit-in protest ultimately hurt or helped its cause. 

"I think, in at least the short term, it helps them because it makes them relevant," said Toronto-based branding expert Andris Pone. "Whether you like what they did or not, it was highly effective."

"It's difficult to deny what they did was very successful in terms of raising awareness."

Most Canadians were likely unaware of Black Lives Matter Toronto's activities before the Pride protest, Pone said. But he cautioned that the group may want to temper its actions in the future, because over time, people may tire of such disruptions.

Black Lives Matter Toronto has hailed its protest a success. It had been invited to participate in the parade and given the status of Honoured Group. But at one point during the procession, its members staged a peaceful sit-in, forcing the event to come to a standstill for 30 minutes.

Black Lives Matter Toronto had been invited to participate in the parade and given the status of Honoured Group. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

The organization issued a list of demands, including better representation of black gay individuals in Pride Toronto staffing and hiring and a commitment to continued space, funding and logistical support for black gay youth.

Most controversially, the group demanded all police floats and booths be banned from Pride marches and parades.

Organizers agreed to the demands and the parade resumed, although on Monday, the head of Pride Toronto backtracked on the police ultimatum, saying he just signed the agreement on Sunday to get the parade moving and that organizers won't be told who can join the event.

'Overplayed their hand'

And it was this demand about police participation that may have been a step too far, said Toronto-based political strategist Marcel Wieder.

"In terms of raising concerns about their own participation in Pride activities, I think they achieved that," he said. "Had they just stuck to that, I think they would have received a sympathetic ear and they could move on.

"But they overplayed their hand and went after the police community and that's where they did themselves a bit of a disservice."

By insisting that police no longer take part in the event, Black Lives Matter Toronto disenfranchised black and gay police officers, Wieder said.

Such a ban would also derail some of the productive relationship-building between police and the gay community that has developed over the years, he said.

Setting aside the police ban demand, Wieder said the protest was effective in attracting media attention to the group's cause and providing a forum to amplify its message to a much larger audience.

Megan Boler, a social justice education professor at the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, said the fact the protest "brought politics back into the Pride parade" is a "huge win."

"I think it will be good for their cause because it's opened a conversation now about the police being part of the parade," she said.

Police officers from Hamilton, Ont., join Sunday's parade. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

More importantly, she said, it's raised the important issue of the fractious relationships between the police and different communities in the city.

But Randi Rahamim, a principal at the Toronto-based communications firm Navigator Ltd., said she believes most people will view the tactics of Black Lives Matter Toronto — hijacking the event of another group that has also been marginalized in society — as completely unreasonable.

'What do politicians care about?'

"They've always used these kind of provocative tactics, not only to raise awareness of their cause but to achieve results," she said. "They are achieving results for their own group and their own interests and to that end they've been successful."

Earlier this year, members of the group staged weeks-long protests at Toronto police headquarters and also went to the home of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. The premier eventually agreed to meet with the organization.

However, Rahamim said when it comes to effecting long-term change, Black Lives Matter Toronto needs to get the larger public on board and understanding the challenges the black community faces.

"And to that end, these types of, what some people perceive as radical moves, don't win over public opinion. So I think they're only going to be effective to a point," she said.

"Ultimately, what do politicians care about? They care about public opinion and until this becomes a mass issue for the broader public, I don't think they will achieve the significant results they're looking for."


Mark Gollom

Senior Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.