Pride Toronto members demand leaders resign over deal to let uniformed police officers in parade

A number of Pride Toronto members say they've lost faith in the organization and are calling for its board and executive director to resign in the wake of a raucous annual general meeting.

Upset members say executives have 'unilaterally undermined' their wishes

Pride Toronto members are calling for executive director Olivia Nuamah, pictured here, to step down for blocking debate about police participation in next year's parade at the annual general meeting. (CBC)

A number of Pride Toronto members say they've lost faith in the organization and are calling for its board and executive director to resign in the wake of a raucous annual general meeting.

The tense meeting this Tuesday was shut down after members questioned Pride's controversial decision to allow uniformed Toronto police officers to march in the 2019 parade following a two-year ban. Members have since raised a number of other issues they say expose deep rifts between the LGBT community and the organization's leadership, including executive director Olivia Nuamah.

During an impromptu session before the official start of the meeting, Pride Toronto members like Gary Kinsman sought answers about Nuamah and the board's "lack of accountability and transparency" about the policing issue — which they contend "unilaterally undermined" their wishes. 

"It was a horrible experience, but it really shows that Pride Toronto has lost the support of its members and the support of the community," Kinsman, a longtime member and sociology professor at Laurentian University, said of the board's reaction to their questions.  

Chief Mark Saunders marches in the 2016 Pride parade, before Toronto police were not permitted to participate in uniform. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Reporters were barred from attending the meeting for the first time in Pride Toronto's history. Only members were permitted inside. 

The organization's handling of attendees' questions has reignited tensions, Kinsman said, and points to a growing schism between Pride Toronto and the LGBT community it's elected to serve. 

"The current executive director has shown that she can't actually deal with this," he told CBC Radio's Here and Now.

"She has overturned democratic decisions of the members without consulting them and she's unable to actually answer pretty basic questions about why the police are being invited back in." 

Pride Toronto defends move

CBC Toronto has asked Pride Toronto why it swiftly adjourned the meeting when the topic of police in the parade was raised, but hasn't received a response. 

Nuamah recently defended the organization's move, saying since the exclusion of uniformed, armed officers marching alongside police vehicles, Pride has developed "much more transparent and better working relationship" with police.

She admits that she alone made the decision to allow police back into the parade. 

"I fancy myself somebody who works inside community, somebody who understands what it means to have substantive conversations about such a complex and difficult issue, and for the last year and a half my only priority has been speaking to people about the position Pride is in," Nuamah said in an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning in October. 

'Lack of accountability and transparency'

Canada's largest municipal police force has been excluded from the festivities since 2017 amid a strained relationship with the LGBT community — especially those who are racialized.

Black Lives Matter protesters stalled the 2016 Pride parade until the organization's former executive director signed a document agreeing to the group's demands, which included a ban on uniformed police officers and police vehicles. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Tensions were further inflamed in January following the arrest of accused serial killer Bruce McArthur.

While the allegations against McArthur haven't been proven in court, the grisly discovery of the remains of eight men with ties to the Gay Village confirmed decade-old fears that a serial killer was targeting Toronto's LGBT community.

Beverly Bain, who identifies as a black queer activist, said subsequent attempts between Pride and the force to mend the strained relationship and address police violence are falling short. 

"We don't see that police are making increased efforts to ensure members of our communities are safe," she told Metro Morning on Thursday. 

"We continue to see a lack of accountability and transparency, and answers for experiences of trans women and queer black, Indigenous and people of colour." 

As tribute to those lost from the community, some marched in the 2018 parade with We Will Not Rest #UntilWe'reSafe posters and T-shirts. (Cole Burston/Canadian Press)

Last month, the federal government pledged $450,000 aimed at helping Pride Toronto develop strategies to make LGBT communities in Canada live more securely and improve the criminal justice system. 

But some Pride members have criticized the organization's acceptance of the grant, pointing out concerns about the government arm, Public Safety Canada, that's supplying the funds.

Public Safety Canada's mandate includes policing and corrections, Bain says, and the LGBT community still has concerns about police violence. 

"The Pride board and executive director have lost our trust," said Bain, who has been a member of the organization for 20 years.  

"We do not feel that what they're doing is in good faith in terms of representing out interests in a way that keeps us safe." 

'Travesty of what Pride should be'

Kinsman echoed this, arguing the grant only further adds to Pride Toronto's pattern of dismissing member concerns. 

"It really, in some ways, showed to me that Pride is more willing to stand with governments, and with the police, and with corporations that are sometimes opposed to people in our communities, rather than to stand with its actual members and the people in our communities who are under attack by the police and other forms of oppression," he said.  

"It was really quite a travesty of what Pride should be."

Kinsman, 63, is a founding member of Pride Toronto's predecessor, the Lesbian and Gay Pride Day Committee — a grassroots initiative launched 37 years ago that advocated for LGBT rights during a time of protests, legal fights and backlash.

"What Pride has actually become is something that is no longer in continuity with what we started in 1981," he said, referring to the organization's roots in resistance

"At the end of the day, if they're still inviting the police there will be civil disobedience or other actions that will make it impossible for this to take place."

With files from Metro Morning, Here and Now