Police wanted to be in Pride parade to improve relations with LGBT community, says deputy chief

Marching in the 2018 Pride parade wasn't Toronto police's primary goal, the force's deputy chief says. The real motivation is improving strained relations with the city's LGBT community.

Force pulled bid to march in June 24 parade earlier this week

Deputy Chief Barbara McLean says building 'a better relationship' with Toronto's LGBT community is a key priority. (CBC)

Marching in the 2018 Pride parade wasn't Toronto police's primary goal with their application to rejoin the event, the force's deputy chief says. The real motivation was improving strained relations with the city's LGBT community.

Barbara McLean, the first openly gay person to serve as a deputy chief of the Toronto Police Service, said part of her work in the human resources command is improving the relationship with the LGBT community. Tensions between the two go back decades, but have been heightened amid the investigation into alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur. 

Earlier this week, the force withdrew its request to march in this year's Pride parade in uniform. Last year, Pride requested officers march in plain clothes, and banned the force from having any floats or vehicles in the massive annual parade — a move that sparked weeks of controversy and drove some councillors to call for the event's funding to be pulled.

This week, Pride Toronto and several other groups serving the city's LGBT community asked police to withdraw its latest bid.

"It was our hope that our application would be approved, but that wasn't the focus of everything," McLean told CBC Radio's Metro Morning.

"The key focus and outcome that we wanted was actually a better relationship with our LGBTQ communities. Marching in the parade is an important aspect and an important visibility of the Toronto Police Service, particularly our LGBTQ members who are members of the community. It's important for people to see that they are reflected in our organization."

Asked why Toronto police thought they would be welcome at Pride amid those tensions, McLean said the force has had "very productive" discussions with Pride Toronto brass and that the application to participate came with their "full approval."

'Something very wrong'

Earlier this week, Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam said she was "quite surprised" to see the force apply to join this year's parade, noting they need to "read the pulse of the community."

She wants to see police organize a series of meetings to "have the community be heard" and allow people to express their frustration and grief.

Wong-Tam said she's grateful for the work police are doing as part of the McArthur investigation, but said there's still "something very wrong with the institution of police and policing with the LGBT community."

Asked repeatedly whether police treat members of the city's LGBT community differently, McLean responded: "I can't answer that. I'm not on the front line."

McLean said some people say they're satisfied with police. But, "I'm also hearing that sometimes it falls short," she said.

"Those are the conversations that I'm interested in having. I'm very motivated to see what it is that we can do better."

She and the force's LGBT outreach officer, Danielle Bottineau, have an outreach strategy, which includes educating the community on the legislative frameworks in which police do their work.

With files from Metro Morning