Pride Toronto members vote no to allowing police to march in annual parade

Funding was one of the factors that contributed to Pride Toronto's decision to revisit its ban on police participation in the city's annual parade, according to a confidential document sent by the organization to its members.

Members voted 163-161 Tuesday against allowing police to participate in annual Pride March

The document comes to light ahead of a vote over whether police should be allowed to march in the parade, a question that has divided members of the city's LGBT community in recent years. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Members of Pride Toronto voted Tuesday night against allowing police to participate in the city's annual parade amid frustrations among many over the organization's recent invitation to police to rejoin the march.

The vote comes amid revelations that funding was one of the factors that contributed to Pride Toronto's decision to revisit its ban on police participation in the parade, according to a confidential document sent by the organization to its members. 

In a statement, Toronto police said they "remain committed to a maintaining a dialogue with Pride Toronto as well as the larger LGBTQS community to deliver policing services that are inclusive and responsive to the needs of the community regardless of the outcome of one particular vote or event."

But as the narrow vote suggests, the question of police participation in the march has sharply divided members of the city's LGBT community in recent years. 

Following the organization's 2017 decision to ban uniformed police officers and their floats from the parade, Pride Toronto underwent a "significant" reorganization, it says.

"In 2018, the political climate changed, and Pride Toronto's position on the participation of the Toronto Police had to come under reconsideration, as it became clear that while our funding arrangements in the past could withstand our policy on police participation, our future funding could not," says the document. 

Media, non-members barred entry

That led the organization's board of directors to re-invite police to apply to join the march, prompting many of its members to push for a vote on the decision.

It's like taunting people who have had a certain experience with police.- Nancy Irwin

"The Board of Directors prioritized its fiduciary responsibility," says the document, adding it was always up to members to request a special meeting and vote on the issue. 

Neither media nor non-members were allowed into Tuesday evening's vote, held at Ryerson University.

We have a long history of problems with police," she said. "It's like taunting people who have had a certain experience with police."

Irwin said she was one of those present at the Pussy Palace bathhouse raid of 2000 that saw six male police officers enter an all-women party, where many were naked. 

At the time of the raids, says Irwin, members of the LGBT community were trying to organize a coalition with police. "That just about derailed it," she said.

'Kind of all or nothing'

If tensions were high before, the handling by the police of the disappearances of several men connected with the Gay Village in recent years only inflamed tensions further, say many.

James Dubro, a longtime member of Pride Toronto, said he doesn't believe in excluding anyone from participating in the march, but says police "screwed up" with the investigation of alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur.

Still, he said he was looking forward to debating the motion at Tuesday evening's meeting and hoped to tweak it to allow police to participate in an off-duty capacity.

"It's kind of all or nothing and I would like to make an amendment and see if I can can get police ... in T-shirts, not on duty, no vehicles, no guns... just marching."

For her part, Irwin also questioned the number of Pride members allowed to take part in Tuesday's vote, saying more than 200 people were added to its membership in the past few days. That has Irwin wondering how fair the voting process might be. 

Pride Toronto's executive director Olivia Nuamah wouldn't comment to CBC News on Tuesday, but is scheduled to appear to CBC Radio's Metro Morning Wednesday morning.

In addition to the vote, the board of directors is also committing to changing its bylaws to better engage with members on "key decisions," the document says.