Pride Toronto asks police to withdraw application to march in Pride Parade

Pride Toronto, in conjunction with other groups serving Toronto’s LGBT community, is asking Toronto police to withdraw their application to march in this year’s Pride Parade, citing a strained relationship between the two communities that “cannot be mended through a parade.”

Uniformed police, vehicles and floats were barred from 2017 parade

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders greets the crowd during Toronto's Pride Parade on Sunday June 28, 2015. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Pride Toronto, in conjunction with other groups serving Toronto's LGBT community, is asking Toronto police to withdraw their application to march in this year's Pride Parade, citing a strained relationship between the two sides that "cannot be mended through a parade."

The letter was posted to Pride Toronto's Twitter account late Monday evening, and is signed by the organization's executive director, Olivia Nuamah, as well as the executive directors of The 519, the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention, the Black Coalition for Aids Prevention, the Toronto People with Aids Foundation and the Sherbourne Health Centre.

Nuamah is scheduled to appear on CBC Radio's Metro Morning Tuesday to discuss the letter.

The letter cites the LGBT community's feelings in the wake of the investigations into the disappearances and deaths of a half-dozen men, most from in or around the city's Gay Village, as well as the deaths of Alloura Wells and Tess Richey.

"We request that the police withdraw their application to march in the 2018 Pride Parade," the letter says. "We believe that our resources are better invested in shared efforts that focus on deeper dialogue, collaborative action, and sustained institutional change. Only a significant commitment and meaningful action can start the critical work of making our communities safer."

A spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday evening.

Last month, Toronto police formally applied to have officers in uniform march in this year's parade. Police were not allowed to attend the parade in uniform, or with weapons or cruisers, last year. Pride Toronto also banned police floats from the event.

The relationship between Toronto police and city's LGBT community has become frayed over the handling of the Bruce McArthur case, the man charged with six counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of six men.

In the letter, the signatories say "it is an incredibly complex and difficult time," and note that McArthur's arrest "has added a new poignancy and a new pain to the fears that sit at the heart of anyone who lives a life of difference."

The letter repeats the assertion by members of the LGBT community that the investigations into the disappearances of the six men whom McArthur is accused of killing, as well as those of Wells and Richey, "were insufficient," that "community knowledge and expertise [were] not accessed and despite the fact that many of us felt and voiced our concerns, we were dismissed. This has severely shaken our community's already often tenuous trust in the city's law enforcement. We feel more vulnerable than ever."

'Meaningful discussions'

When police applied to march last month, spokesperson Meaghan Gray told CBC that the force would respect whatever decision the Pride committee reaches. But she noted that since last summer, police have had "very meaningful discussions" with Pride Toronto about their relationship with the LGBT community.

In reaction to the force's application last month, Soofia Mahmood, manager of communications and fund development for The 519, said it was not time for police to return to the parade.

"I can tell you though that we don't believe that this is the time for the police to be asserting their intentions to participate in Pride," Mahmood told CBC Toronto in an email.

"They have significant work they need to do to build the kind of trust that would make their participation appropriate and we believe that they should be more focused on doing that work."

'Marching won't contribute towards solving these issues'

Monday's letter acknowledges "steps have been taken" to work collaboratively with the LGBT community "to understand what we need to be safe.

"This will not be accomplished in one day. The relationship cannot be mended through a parade. Marching won't contribute towards solving these issues; they are beyond the reach of symbolic gestures."

In 2016, the advocacy group Black Lives Matter Toronto brought the parade to a standstill until Toronto Pride's leadership agreed to a list of demands. This included barring uniformed police officers, as well as police floats and vehicles, from the parade. The group had argued that a police presence would make members of marginalized communities feel unsafe due to the difficult history between the force and the city's black community. 

Following discussions with the LGBT community, Pride Toronto agreed to bar uniformed officers from participating in the parade, while police agreed not to participate in uniform.

Also last month, the Toronto Police Services Board voted in favour of an independent review of how the force handles missing persons cases. The McArthur case has been excluded from the probe.