City will fund Pride Toronto, even as uniformed officers blocked from parade

After a heated daylong debate, Toronto councillors voted 27-17 to give Pride Toronto $260,000 in funding for this summer's festival, despite the organization's decision to ask uniformed officers not to march in the parade.

Some councillors pushed for $260K in funding to be pulled until police welcomed back

Chief Mark Saunders won't be allowed to march in his uniform at this year's parade if Pride Toronto follows through on a ban on uniformed officers. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

After a heated daylong debate, Toronto councillors voted 27-17 to give Pride Toronto $260,000 in funding for this summer's festival, despite the organization's decision to ask uniformed officers not to march in the parade.

Pride's supporters on council say the organization has followed all of the city's rules, and questioned the motives behind a motion to defund the annual event. Coun. John Campbell put forward the motion calling for the city to suspend its funding unless it reaffirms its "core value of inclusivity" by allowing uniformed officers to march in the parade. 

"What Pride is asking the members who want to participate in the parade is ostensibly to deny who they are and come incognito and not as police officers," Campbell told CBC Toronto before the vote.

The majority of councillors didn't share that view. Here's how the vote turned out, with names in green in favour of defunding the event and those in red against it:

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, whose ward hosts the annual festivities, pointed out that that city staff — and its legal department — have recommended the funding shouldn't be taken away.

Even without the money, she said, "we're going to continue to march."

Coun. Janet Davis asked why Pride should be mandated to welcome uniformed officers with guns. Coun. Shelley Carroll argued council pulling the funding would undermine Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, who has said he's working with Pride's leadership on a solution.

Mayor John Tory echoed that sentiment, saying Pride Toronto, the LBGT community and police all have his "unequivocal" support, and that he doesn't want to disrupt the ongoing discussions between the sides by changing the money the city provides.

Wong-Tam said the city hall debate, mainly focused on what rights police should have, doesn't address the issue that led to the situation.

"What I think is missing … is the conversation of how do you actually improve policing relations? How do you hold police accountable to this minority community? And how do you actually create an opportunity for forward dialogue?"

Pride Toronto defends decision

Pride Toronto executive director Olivia Nuamah is defending her organization's decision to ask police officers to not march in uniform during this summer's Pride parade. (John Rieti/CBC)

Pride Toronto's executive director Olivia Nuamah welcomed the decision, but said the lengthy debate proves her community still has to fight for its rights.

"We all understand we have a long way to go," she told reporters following the vote. "This conversation was exactly why we feel we need to take a step back and we really need to reconsider what it means to be LGBTQ in this city and start again."

Pastor Brent Hawkes, a prominent gay rights advocate, accused Campbell and those supporting the motion of finding an "excuse" to go after Pride's funding.

"It's unfortunate that so many city councillors are once again attacking Pride," he said, referencing past battles over event funding.

Hawkes said Pride is being held to an unreasonable standard, adding, "you have to wonder what else is going on here."

Parade shutdown led to changes

Black Lives Matter Toronto was asked to help lead last summer's Pride parade. Then, they temporarily shut it down. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Last year, Black Lives Matter Toronto brought the parade to a standstill until Pride's leadership agreed to a list of demands, including that police officers not be able to march in the parade in uniform and the force not have floats or vehicles in the parade.

Following discussions with the community it represents, Pride Toronto agreed to keep uniformed officers out.

Recently, New York City extended an invitation to Toronto police to march in its parade. Saunders said his officers won't be in uniform at that event, but can attend "if they want to, and I hope they would."

The police force has confirmed it will still be providing security throughout Pride festivities.

About the Author

John Rieti

John Rieti covers city hall and city issues for CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country in search of great stories. Outside of work, catch him running or cycling around, often armed with a camera, always in search of excellent coffee.

With files from Shannon Martin