Toronto police apply to march in 2018 Pride Parade, but group doesn't 'believe that this is the time'

Toronto police have formally applied to have officers in uniform march in the Pride Parade this year but at least one organization says the force needs to rebuild trust in the LGBT community first.

The 519, an advocacy organization, says police need to rebuild trust with LGBT community first

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

Toronto police have formally applied to have officers in uniform march in the Pride Parade this year, but at least one organization says the force needs to rebuild trust in the LGBT community first.

Meaghan Gray, spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service, confirmed in an email Wednesday that the force has filed its application to participate in the 2018 parade and is waiting for a final decision.

Since last summer, police had "very meaningful discussions" with Pride Toronto about its relationship with the city's LGBT community, Gray explained. 

Part of those discussions included talk about a desire on the part of the force to participate in the parade, she noted. But regardless of whether its participation in uniform is approved, work on its relationship with the communities will continue, she added. 
A Pride flag flaps in the breeze over top the headquarters of the Toronto Police Service in June 2017. A police superintendent said the flag was a signal that LGBT officers can now 'bring our true selves to work.' (CBC)

"The service will respect the final decision of the Pride committee," Gray said. 

Police were not allowed to attend the parade in uniform, with weapons and cruisers last year. Pride Toronto also banned police floats.

In recent months, relations between the police and LGBT community have become strained over the handling of the case involving accused serial killer Bruce McArthur. The 66-year-old landscaper has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of six men, some of whom were connected to the Gay Village. 

Soofia Mahmood, manager of communications and fund development for The 519, said it's not yet time for police to return in uniform to the parade. The 519 is a city organization dedicated to advocacy for the inclusion of LGBT communities. 
A Toronto police parking enforcement officer waves a Pride flag as the officer march along the parade route during the Pride Parade in Toronto in July 2016. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

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

"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."

As for Pride Toronto, executive director Olivia Nuamah said the organization officially opened registration for its parade on Nov. 17, 2017 and will accept applications for participation until April 30.

After the deadline, the organization will spend up to three weeks reviewing applications. Then it will post the final parade list on its website to kick off Pride month on June 1.

"Until this process has been completed, no comment can be made on any individual or organizational registration," Nuamah told CBC Toronto. 
Const. Danielle Bottineau, LGBTQ liaison officer, takes a photo with some revellers at a Toronto Pride march before police were not allowed to participate in uniform. (Twitter/@PsdboyV)

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 from marching in the parade and police floats or vehicles too. The group had argued that a police presence would make members of marginalized communities feel unsafe due to the torrid 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.

Tension have recently mounted between police and the LGBT community over the force's handling of the McAthur case. Since his arrest in January, questions have emerged about how police dealt with decades of missing persons cases in the Gay Village. 

Many LGBT advocates have criticized certain elements of the homicide investigation after reports that McArthur may have been interviewed years before his arrest as part of a divisional probe. This fuelled suspicions of police inaction in dealing with the LGBT community's concerns about a possible serial killer.

Earlier this week, Toronto Police Services Board voted for an independent review of how its handled cases involving missing people. But a decision to exclude the McArthur case from this probe renewed concerns among the LGBT community with advocates wondering whether the review will actually deliver the answers they want. 
In 2016, the advocacy group Black Lives Matter Toronto brought the parade to a standstill until Pride's leadership agreed to a list of demands. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

The community speaks out 

Stephen Low, an academic who frequents the Gay Village, doesn't think uniformed police should participate in the Pride parade.

"It's about the way they treated the missing men in our community and the comments that have happened since. I don't think they have shown or earned the trust of the community to be invited back and to celebrate them in their role of police officers," he said.

"Of course they are welcome as individual citizens," he added.

Stephen Low, who frequents the Gay Village, doesn't believe police should participate in Pride, but should be welcomed as private citizens. (CBC)

Dan Stortini disagrees.

"If you go back, 20, 40, 30 years ago there was a bad relationship with this community and the police and there's been a lot of effort on both sides to reconcile that," Stortini said. 

Stortini thinks uniformed police should be able to participate at Pride. "It shows as a sign of support, to show that we moved forward in terms of our relationship with police."


With files from Radio-Canada's Jean-Philippe Nadeau