Pride Toronto head won't resign, defends controversial vote on police participation in parade

In an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Wednesday, Olivia Nuamah pushed back against criticism that she has mishandled the issue of uniformed police officers marching in the event.

Olivia Nuamah said the group is facing difficult financial circumstances

Olivia Nuamah, executive director of Pride Toronto, said Wednesday that she does not believe that members of the group have lost confidence in her leadership. (CBC)

The executive director of Pride Toronto says she has no plans to resign amid renewed controversy over police participation in the annual parade and calls from some of the organization's members for her to step down. 

In an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Wednesday, Olivia Nuamah pushed back against criticism that she has mishandled the issue of uniformed police officers marching in the parade. She also denied an allegation from another member that the group tried to "manipulate" a recent vote on the matter.

On Tuesday evening, Pride Toronto members voted 163-161 against allowing police back into the parade for at least two more years. Uniformed officers last marched in the parade in 2016, when a protest by Black Lives Matter kicked off a years-long debate about the place of police in such an event. 

The organization's leadership, including Nuamah, supported lifting the ban — in part because it has reportedly contributed to financial strains on Pride Toronto

According to voting member Beverly Bain, some 244 new members were registered in the days leading up to the meeting, nearly doubling the number of people eligible to vote on the question. 

"Who were those members?" Bain asked in an interview, alleging that the board attempted to "stack the vote.

"I'm saying the process was undemocratic. I'm saying there was manipulation," Bain said, adding that no one expected the vote to be so close.

Nuamah, however, said that the process was completely transparent. The 244 new members were those who had already completed the requirements to register and were waiting to formally do so, she explained. She said the executive received a list of those members last Thursday and began completing applications so they could participate in Tuesday's meeting.

Nuamah was already under scrutiny from some Pride Toronto members after she, in October, invited police to apply to march in the parade. While the application was ultimately withdrawn, the move garnered considerable criticism from some within the group who said that Nuamah and the board failed to consult them before reaching out to police.

Bain said that factions within Pride Toronto have now lost confidence in the group's leadership. Tuesday night's result was just the latest sign that Nuamah should resign, she added. 

"The membership has shown that it has lost basic faith in the executive director," she told host Matt Galloway. 

The controversial vote came amid revelations that Pride Toronto is facing significant financial strain in the form of "mounting debt." A confidential background document sent to members before the meeting and obtained by NOW Magazine laid out the ongoing problems. 

Toronto police last marched in uniform in the parade in 2016. The procession was halted by a Black Lives Matter protest, which led to a ban on police in the event. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Pride Toronto's leadership concluded last year that the organization "could not withstand any threats to its funding and continue to operate," the document reads. The group's position on police participation in the parade could jeopardize its financial viability moving forward, it added.

Nuamah said Wednesday that in addition to debts, the ongoing dialogue between police and the LGBT community in Toronto, in part facilitated by Pride Toronto, has required substantial resources. 

She added that she does not believe Tuesday's vote to be a rebuke of her leadership.

"I feel like I did — and the board also did — what we needed to do to ensure that were we able to define a road map moving forward in relation to police participation, but that we also ensured the organization continued to operate while those decisions were made," Nuamah said.

Speaking to reporters at city hall, Toronto Mayor John Tory said he was "deeply disappointed" to learn the results of the vote. 

"I believe the police should be in Pride, I've said that many times," he said. "We see a lot of division and polarization on issues like this. It's the last thing we need in the city of Toronto."

Tory said that closed-door meetings between Pride Toronto, police officials and advocates have yielded encouraging results, and he hopes the members will revisit the issue of police participation in the coming weeks.

"It requires good faith on all sides to move it forward, and I'm continuing to believe that that is something we can do here," he said. 

For her part, Bain said that Pride Toronto may need to completely rethink its overall mission and the circumstances of the annual festival. 

"The festival has become a highly corporatized festival where enormous money is pumped into creating all sorts of ballooning events. Pride started as something small and significant. It can be downgraded. It can be shifted. Things can be changed," she said.

"I think many of us in the community, in the queer, LGBT and trans community, are rethinking what sort of celebration we want."