Toronto

Pride Toronto volunteers 'deeply concerned' after executive director's mysterious departure

A group of longtime volunteers is calling on Pride Toronto to address an “alarming” lack of leadership and transparency after the sudden departure of executive director Olivia Nuamah.

Volunteers believe Olivia Nuamah was fired, which Pride Toronto has not confirmed

Olivia Nuamah, the former executive director of Pride Toronto, said last year that she had no plans to resign. (CBC)

A group of longtime volunteers is calling on Pride Toronto to address an "alarming" lack of leadership and transparency after the sudden departure of executive director Olivia Nuamah.

The organization announced earlier this week that Nuamah is no longer in the role, however Pride Toronto has not said if she resigned or was otherwise forced out of the job.

The volunteers say the board of directors must provide answers about what happened, and why Pride Toronto members were not notified for nearly a week.

"It is difficult to consider this series of dates without a deep sense of cynicism," reads an open letter addressed to the board of directors

"We are deeply concerned … by the timing of this termination, the timing of the announcement of the termination, and the seemingly total absence of planning for this transition."

The letter is signed by 30 volunteers who have served as "team leads" during the festival. The group is meeting in person Saturday to determine its next steps.

Pride Toronto said none of its board members were available for an interview about the allegations and concerns raised in the letter.

Nuamah has not publicly addressed her departure, but she previously said she had no plans to resign during an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning in January 2019.

Nuamah was named the executive director in February 2017, following the resignation of former executive director Mathieu Chantelois.

Pride addresses harassment and financial mismanagement

A day after announcing Nuamah's departure, the board of directors issued an open letter of its own addressing concerns around verbal harassment and a potential misuse of funds which were raised in June and July 2019.

The board said it launched an independent investigation after the allegations were raised, though it did not provide further details about what is alleged to have occurred. 

The funds that may have been misused represent a "very small" percentage of Pride Toronto's overall operating budget, the letter says.

The letter does not say if the allegations or subsequent investigation are tied to Nuamah's departure. Concerned volunteers say it's a confusing explanation that raises many questions about what is really going on behind the scenes.

"We're all feeling very distraught, very sidelined, very much out of the loop on what has been happening," said Davina Hader, a team lead and volunteer on the Dyke March for the past six years.

"When the board goes behind our backs and does things without transparency it's very upsetting."

Pride Toronto has been embroiled in a years-long debate over the participation of uniformed police officers, which led to some calls for Nuamah's resignation. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Hader went on to call Nuamah "a rock" for the organization during a tumultuous past few years, during which Pride has grappled with the LGBT community's strained relationship with police and the exclusion of uniformed police officers in its parade. 

The issue became a major source of controversy after a Black Lives Matter protest during the 2016 parade. Uniformed police officers have not marched in the parade since, a policy that Pride members narrowly upheld last year.

Nuamah, however, supported lifting the ban, which generated some criticism and calls for her resignation.

Search for replacement to begin soon

Pride Toronto has said it will begin its search for a new leader in the near future, though the volunteers say the timing could hamper this year's edition of the festival.

"As the 2020 festival rapidly approaches, we demand that the Board of Directors immediately address the alarming lack of central operational leadership," the open letter says.

Hader added that longtime volunteers like herself may no longer be willing to help organize the event.

"We're actually wanting to throw in the towel," Hader said. "That's how serious this is."

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