Pride Toronto opens door for city police to possibly rejoin summer parade after 2-year ban

City police would be allowed to march in the 2019 Pride parade following a two-year ban if they meet Pride Toronto's entrance policy, the organization says.

Organization says it will review the force's application to march in uniform in 2019 Pride parade

Pride Toronto announced Tuesday that the city police is welcome to apply to be part of the 2019 parade after a two-year ban. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press)

City police would be allowed to march in the 2019 Pride parade following a two-year ban if they meet Pride Toronto's entrance policy, the organization says. 

Canada's largest municipal police force will be able to make a bid to have uniformed officers rejoin the march, which is held every June, Pride Toronto announced Tuesday morning. 

Toronto police have been excluded from the festivities since 2017 amid a strained relationship with the LGBTQ community. A difficult history between the force and the city's black community saw safety concerns fester.

Tensions were further inflamed in January following the arrest of accused serial killer Bruce McArthur.

The homicide investigation unearthed several missing persons cases and confirmed decade-old fears that an alleged serial killer was targeting the city's LGBTQ community. It shook residents and saw several groups speak out, saying police didn't take their concerns seriously. 

"What we want to ensure is that we prioritize the work that we're doing together to find solutions to the issues that were raised and we work in partnership by not only opening up an opportunity for the police to apply and participate in our parade, but continue ongoing work within our communities in order to progress some of the issues raised over the last few years," said Pride Toronto executive director Olivia Nuamah.

She pointed out that Toronto police will be subject to the same process that all organization go through when applying to take part in the parade.

This policy is outlined in the Pride Toronto's Rules of Parade Entry, or R.O.P.E. that provides stipulations for:

  • Branding.
  • Vehicle, float and marching safety.
  • Mandatory attendance at an information session for all organizers. 

All groups must agree to these rules during the application process.

"We will review the application and provided they meet our Rules of Parade Entry policy, they will be granted a marching permit for the 2019 parade," Amber Moyle, director of development and special events for Pride Toronto, said in a news release. 

'Start to a much longer journey'

During the news conference, Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders applauded the decision and reaffirmed the service's commitment to fostering respect and acceptance in the LGBTQ community.

"This is just the start to a much longer journey," Saunders told reporters. "We're not where we need to be yet, but as chief I promise you the Toronto Police Service will do anything and everything we can to get to where we need to be."

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders was criticized for his force's handling of the investigation into alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

The first step to proper policing, he says, is establishing ties to residents.

"A key part was to being open, receptive to listening to conversations, not necessarily easy conversations, very candid conversations if we're going to get it right, and that was something that was done," said Saunders.

He said officers should be visible participants in Pride events because their participation sends an important message to members of the LGBTQ community. 

"Marching in uniform in the Pride parade is an important event, not just to show our support for the LGBTQ+ [LGBTQ and other] communities, but also to the proud members of the Toronto Police Service," Saunders said.

"It really means a lot to us as an organization."

Exclusion strengthened relationship

Meanwhile, Nuamah said the exclusion of uniformed officers with weapons and cruisers has led the organization's board of directors to develop a "much more transparent and better working relationship" with police. 

"We know that there's a lot of work that needs to be done," she told reporters during a Tuesday morning news conference at The 519 Community Centre, in the heart of the city's Gay Village.

"But at some point, we have to decide to undertake that work, which is what we're doing now."

We're looking for real solutions to some of these issues, and what we're not going to do is not sit around the table and not talk to each other.- Olivia Nuamah, Pride Toronto

In order to mend the frayed relationship between police and the LGBTQ community, Nuamah said, both sides need to "work more closely" to tackle "issues of policing and institutional power."

"We're looking for real solutions to some of these issues, and what we're not going to do is not sit around the table and not talk to each other in order to arrive at those solutions," she said. 

Application window closes May 1, 2019

The organization has already officially opened registration for this summer's parade — one of the biggest in North America.

Toronto police have yet to apply, noted Nuamah. 

Pride Toronto will accept bids for participation until May 1, 2019.  After the deadline, Nuamah said, the organization will spend up to three weeks reviewing applications. It will post the final parade list on its website to kick off Pride Month on June 1. 

The 2019 parade will take place on June 23. 

Police banned in 2017

Police presence at the parade emerged as a contentious issue in 2016.

Activists with the local chapter of Black Lives Matter disrupted the march, in part demanding that uniformed officers no longer be in it because their presence could discourage marginalized communities from participating. 

Members of Black Lives Matter Toronto briefly halted the 2016 parade to challenge what activist Alexandria Williams said was the organization's 'anti-blackness.' (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

The issue was thrust under the spotlight again in January last year, when Pride Toronto adopted a list of demands issued by Black Lives Matter that included banning police floats from the parade.

The following month, Chief Mark Saunders announced the force would not be participating in the 2017 event, marking the first time police didn't march in it in 16 years. 

The McArthur factor

In fall 2017, the investigation into alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur widened the schism between LGBTQ residents and police, despite closed-door talks with Pride Toronto to help improve the relationship.

McArthur, a 66-year-old self-employed landscaper, has been charged with eight counts of first-degree murder in connection with the disappearances of eight men, many with ties to the Gay Village. 

Bruce McArthur, 66, is accused of killing eight men between 2010 and 2017. (Bruce McArthur/Facebook)

News of his arrest on Jan. 18 came little more than a month after Saunders said publicly there was no evidence to suggest a serial killer was linked to the disappearance of gay men. 

Five of his alleged victims were subjects of two separate missing persons task forces established by Toronto police.

Nuamah has credited to McArthur investigation to the re-emergence of a "feeling of a lack of safety" for many LGBTQ residents.

She noted that some community members felt concerns about the disappearances of men — alongside a missing person-turned homicide case of Tess Richey, and Alloura Wells, a transgender woman whose body was found months after she vanished — were downplayed or outright ignored by investigators. 

While the parade, a typically colourful celebration was followed by a sea of people wearing black to commemorate the alleged victims of McArthur and LGBTQ victims of violence last year. A moment of silence was held. 

"What Bruce McArthur did was bring up a number of issues that the police have taken up themselves," Nuamah said on Tuesday. "As a result of that, we have all undertaken to attempt to find solutions to some of the issues."

'New understanding'

Pride Toronto explained while the move to invite uniformed officers might "feel premature" and stir controversy in the LGBTQ community, its leadership is "heartened" that police brass have taken steps to awaken a "new understanding and active commitment."

The 2019 parade will take place on June 23. The event marks the grand finale of Pride Month. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

"What Bruce McArthur did was bring up a number of issues that the police have taken up themselves," Nuamah said on Tuesday. "As a result of that, we have all undertaken to attempt to find solutions."

40% of Toronto voters support decision: poll 

More than half of Torontonians who filled out CBC Toronto's Vote Compass during this election season appear to agree with Pride Toronto's latest move involving police.

Some 40 per cent strongly agree with the idea of uniformed officers marching in the annual parade, while 19 per cent agree with the move and 17 per cent are neutral.

Launch Vote Compass here to see how your views line up with Toronto's council candidates and mayoral frontrunners

However, 13 per cent of respondents — mostly made up of those aged 18-34 — are strongly opposed to the idea.

Nearly three-quarters of those who said their intention to vote for Tory also support having uniformed officers in the parade. On the other hand, 54 per cent of mayoral candidate Saron Gebresellassi's voters strongly disagree.

These findings are based on 11,982 respondents who used Vote Compass in early October. The respondents are part of a non-random sample from the population and have been weighted in order to approximate a representative sample.

Carol Pasternak, left, and Audrey Kouyoumdjian hold signs supporting Toronto police before the 2017 Toronto Pride parade. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)


Amara McLaughlin

Senior producer, CBC News

Amara McLaughlin is the senior producer of social media for CBC News in Toronto.