Toronto·Updated

Pride Toronto funding should continue amid police debate, city hall committee recommends

Canada's largest Pride parade is one step closer to securing municipal funding that has been threatened by a decision to ban uniformed police officers from the annual event.

Final ruling on funding is expected at city council meeting later this month

Pride executive director Olivia Nuamah explains Pride Toronto's position on uniformed police officers in the annual parade to city council's Economic Development Committee. (CBC News)

Canada's largest Pride parade is one step closer to securing municipal funding that has been threatened by a decision to ban uniformed police officers from the annual event.

Pride Toronto has sparked controversy ever since a decision early this year to ban police floats from the colourful summer parade.

On Monday, a committee at Toronto City Hall recommended upholding a $260,000 annual grant to the event after a petition from Olivia Nuamah, the executive director of Pride Toronto. A final ruling on the fate of the grant will come in a few weeks at the city's monthly council meeting.

"The police have never been banned from our parade. They are not banned now," Nuamah told the Economic Development Committee Monday morning, later clarifying that police officers could even march wearing a Toronto Police t-shirt, for example, just not their official uniform.

Toronto Mayor John Tory has expressed his support for the funding, saying both Pride Toronto and Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders have told him cutting the grant would not help resolve the controversy around the parade.

"They both tell me those discussions are constructive," he told reporters following a tour of Toronto Community Housing units. "They've both said to me ... that a withdrawal of city funding would not be helpful to a resolution of this issue."

Coun. John Campbell, who did not attend the committee meeting Monday, has called for the city to withdraw its funding of Pride 2017, given the issue with police.

The union representing Toronto police officers quickly echoed that call, saying it would be unacceptable for the city to sponsor an event that shuts out certain municipal employees.

Other critics of Pride Toronto's move include members of the city's LGBT community.

Bryn Hendricks said close to 9,000 people, most from Toronto, added their names to an online petition asking that uniformed police officers be allowed to march. (CBC News)

"I think it's sad that we're looking at excluding [police] in any capacity," Bryn Hendricks said. 

In his presentation to the committee, Hendricks told members he started an online petition in January, 2017, which now has close to 9,000 signatures from people around the world, calling for uniformed police officers to be allowed to march.

​"There are countries around the world who would be absolutely ecstatic to have the police march with them," Hendricks told reporters. "And we are sloughing them off."

In a statement released Sunday evening, Pride Toronto reiterated that police officers were welcome at the parade so long as they appeared as civilians rather than in an official capacity.

The organization said officers could participate in the march if they left their uniforms, weapons and cruisers behind.

Nuamah said both sides of the issue have the same goal.

"We are going to be trying incredibly hard to dampen down the vitriolic nature of this conversation, to be honest with you, to make it more about the cohesion which we all seek," Nuamah said.

Having the mayor's public support is "huge," the organizer said.

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

In January, Pride Toronto decided to adopt a list of demands issued by the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter, which included a ban on police floats.

The issue first made headlines during last year's parade, when members of the anti-racism group staged a sit-in that halted the march until Pride organizers signed a list of demands.

Black Lives Matter has argued that allowing uniformed officers at the parade could discourage marginalized communities from attending.

Saunders said earlier this year that in light of the ongoing controversy, the force would steer clear of the event, aside from overseeing security.

If the parade's grant is revoked, the city would still provide policing, transportation and other services for the Pride parade,

Police participation in Pride events has stirred controversy across Canada recently, with several forces — such as those in Vancouver and Halifax -- facing restrictions or bans for local parades.

Last week, however, the Pride committee in St. John's, N.L., reversed course and invited uniformed police officers to march in the city's parade.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lorenda Reddekopp

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Lorenda Reddekopp is a news reporter for CBC Toronto.

With files from The Canadian Press

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