Toronto police to boost Pride security in wake of Florida shooting

Toronto police plan to boost their presence at local Pride events following the mass shooting inside a gay nightclub in Florida early Sunday, organizers say.

'Pride is all about creating a safe space where we can all be together,' executive director says

Police say they are reviewing the security plans to ensure Toronto Pride events are secure. (CBC)

Toronto police plan to boost their presence at local Pride events following the mass shooting inside a gay nightclub in Florida that killed 50 people early Sunday, organizers say.

Police Chief Mark Saunders tweeted Sunday that local officers are "actively reassessing" security plans for the city's month-long Pride events, a sentiment echoed by Pride Toronto who issued a statement saying it would "continue to work with our full security team" throughout the festival.

Pride organizers and police plan to meet Monday morning to review security plans for the rest of the month's celebrations. The chief has also committed to posting more officers near the Village and areas where events will be happening, Pride's executive director Mathieu Chantelois said.

Toronto police have not made any other decisions about changes to Pride events in the city, Const. Jenifferjit Sidhu said Sunday. Sidhu said the force's LGBT liaison officer has reached out to counterparts in Florida and to Pride Toronto to assess any threats.

The celebratory nature of Pride has been already been shadowed by the shooting, with a candlelight vigil planned on Church Street Sunday night to honour the 50 who died and the 53 injured in the shooting at Pulse nightclub.

Chantelois said that he was sickened by both the hatred and the violence in Florida, saying that he had still been unable to eat by late afternoon.

"What happened has already changed what this Pride month is about," he said. "There's not one march, not one rally, not one human rights panel that we will not address it. And on July 3, when a million of us will take the street, it's going to be in everyone's mind." 

Creating a safe space

Pride events have always been about a creating an place for people to feel safe to be themselves. Chantelois said he and police are meeting Monday to ensure that organizers have taken all the steps they need to make sure that the LGBT community feels physically safe during this year's celebrations.

"We're meeting with police, we're meeting with the RCMP and we're going to look again at our plan and see how we can make it more solid," he said. "This is what pride is all about, creating a safe space where we can all be together."

Past Pride celebrations have been loving and inclusive, the director of LGBT organization the 519 said Sunday. And while John Farrell said that he expects organizers will review security plans, he does not believe there will be major changes to the events.

Violence 'part of the LGBT experience'

"We do take comfort in the fact that our Pride Month celebrations have existed for many years now and they have been marked by love, celebration and participation," he said.

The co-chair for Toronto's Pride events confirmed that there would be an increased police presence at Sunday's candlelight vigil — something that may continue throughout the month depending on the discussions with officers, Alica Hall said.

"I definitely think this is a tragedy for our community and there will be people who are fearful [because] violence is, unfortunately, a part of the LGBT experience," she said. "There are people out there who definitely have hatred toward the LGBT community, but I'm confident that we can work with Toronto Police Services and RCMP to create a safe space for our community and our lives."

With files from Morgan Dunlop