'What changed was Bruce McArthur,' says Toronto Pride head about fresh parade tensions

Attempts to mend a strained relationship between police and the LGBT community "were getting somewhere" says Pride Toronto. Then Bruce McArthur was arrested and charged with six counts of murder.

Police hoping to march in uniform, but Pride says serial killer case has damaged relationship

Olivia Nuamah, executive director of Pride Toronto, said that the investigation into alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur has impacted ongoing talks between police and the LGBT community. (CBC)

Attempts to mend a strained relationship between police and the LGBT community "were getting somewhere" until recently, says the head of Pride Toronto.

Olivia Nuamah, Pride's executive director, and representatives from five other organizations co-signed a statement issued late Monday asking Toronto police to withdraw its recent application to march in uniform in this year's parade. The statement suggests that the schism between the LGBT community and police is too wide to be bridged by a parade.

Last year, police were banned from marching in uniform or having cruisers or police floats in the parade, a demand that sparked months of debate. It had looked like that was going to change this year, until everything changed in mid-January. 

We are coming into a Pride parade that is beset with the grief.- Olivia Nuamah, Pride Toronto

"What changed was Bruce McArthur, to be honest with you. What changed was the re-emergence of that feeling, of that feeling of a lack of safety," said Nuamah in an interview with CBC's Metro Morning on Tuesday. 

McArthur, an alleged serial killer charged in the deaths of six men with ties to the Gay Village, was arrested on January 18. Police have released an image of an unidentified seventh man believed to be another of McArthur's victims.

The revelation that an alleged serial killer was targetting the city's LGBT community did not come as shock to many within it. There had long been speculation that a series of disappearances from around the Gay Village were connected, Nuamah says, and concerns about safety in the area stretch back decades. 

"We are coming into a Pride parade that is beset with the grief, the anguish and the confusion that the community feels about how our community can find itself in this position," Nuamah said. 

LGBT community hasn't seen the change its looking for

Since last summer, Pride Toronto has been engaged in closed door conversations with police brass about how to restore trust and find some sort of compromise on police participation in the parade, one of the world's largest.

The talks had been "going really well," Nuamah said, adding that the groups maintain a professional rapport and "speak as partners.

"Certainly, for a while, we were getting somewhere," she continued. "Lots of things were on the table" in terms of how the sides might reach an agreeable understanding. 

But McArthur's arrest and subsequent charges — a little more than a month after Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders publicly denied the existence of a serial killer — stunted that progress.

"What it showed was that ... all of the work we had been doing up until that point, perhaps hadn't led to the change that we had hoped for," she said. 

"The true nature of partnership is the kind of relationship where we are able to ask our institutions to respond to us in a way that we think is meaningful," Nuamah said, explaining that many within the LGBT community feel their concerns were dismissed by those entrusted with ensuring public safety. 

Questions of just how deep the divide between police and LGBT residents goes isn't what matters, she adds. Finding a path back to trust should be the focus, and that won't come within the context of a public debate over police participation in the parade, according to Nuamah. 

"I think that the relationship with any institution as large as the Toronto Police Service has its ups and downs. Whether or not it's broken, whether or not it's damaged — what we want to prioritize is the fact that as an organization, there is much, much, much more work that needs to be done before we march side by side in a celebratory manner," Nuamah said. 

With files from Metro Morning