Toronto Pride rocked by 'Israeli apartheid' spat

A dispute over political protest is simmering in the wake of Toronto's Pride weekend, after a group supporting the Palestinian cause took part in Saturday's Dyke March and another organization unfurled a banner alongside Sunday's parade.

'Creepy' councillor films march to try to get event's city funding revoked

More than a million people, many equipped with squirt guns, beads and rainbow flags, lined the streets of downtown Toronto on Sunday afternoon to celebrate gay pride 2:44

A dispute over political protest is simmering in the wake of Toronto's Pride weekend, after a group supporting the Palestinian cause took part in Saturday's Dyke March, and the organization Queers Against Israeli Apartheid unfurled a banner alongside Sunday’s parade.

Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti, a staunch ally of Mayor Rob Ford, filmed the Dyke March and said he will use his footage to try to axe Pride’s $125,000 in city funding.

"You have the Jewish community that’s very upset at what’s going on. And so some of us thought we resolved this thing at City Hall by saying just have them not show up. But they did show up, and now we’ve got a decision to make," Mammoliti told media on Monday.

Toronto Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti films Saturday's Dyke March in an attempt to get Pride's city funding revoked. ((Courtesy Coun. Shelley Carroll))

A group called Dykes and Trans People for Palestine took part in Saturday’s march, holding up banners reading "We stand with queers in Palestine" and "Free Palestine" and chanting "We’re sexy, we’re hot, Israeli apartheid’s not."

Mammoliti, the councillor for Ward 7 (York West), alleges the contingent consisted largely of people from Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, which some Jewish groups say promulgates anti-Israel "hate speech."

 The group said in April it wouldn’t participate in Sunday’s parade because it didn’t want to give Ford and his allies a pretext to cut Pride’s funding.

QuAIA did not make any commitments about Saturday’s Dyke March, however, an annual event that specifically defines itself as "a political demonstration" and "not a parade."

Still, Mammoliti called the banners and chants "underhandedness" and "arrogance" and said he would raise the issue in a meeting with Ford on Monday or Tuesday.

'Creepy'

Coun. Adam Vaughan called Mammoliti’s filming "creepy," while hundreds of commenters on Twitter started posting under the tag "PeepingMammoliti."

Pride got $123,807 in municipal grants last year, or just under four per cent of its operating budget, according to the city. The city also provided $250,000 in free garbage pickup and cleanup for the festival, which generates an estimated $94 million in economic activity from tourists and $18 million in taxes.

For this year, city council’s executive committee opted to withhold funding until after Pride weekend, with Mammoliti vowing to "watch carefully" for any involvement by QuAIA.

An estimated million people took in Sunday's Pride Parade in Toronto, in which many participants mocked Mayor Rob Ford, who chose to spend the weekend at his cottage. ((Ian Willms/Canadian Press))

Group members did show up alongside Sunday’s parade, unfurling a 12-metre-wide banner from atop a subway station along the route. It read, "Support Palestinian queers, boycott Israeli tourism."

"We’re drawing attention to Israel’s use of LGBT rights as a propaganda tool to justify apartheid policies and the occupation of Palestinian territories," QuAIA member Tim McCaskell said in a statement on the group’s website. "We’re saying to queer people, respect yourselves and others. Don’t be used. Don’t pinkwash apartheid. Boycott gay tourism to Israel until it ends its apartheid policies."

McCaskell said the group acted on its own. Pride organizers confirmed they had no warning about the banner and did not approve it or have control over it.

"This is something that QuAIA has done on QuAIA’s own," McCaskell said. "If Mammoliti wants to defund pride on the basis of this, it has to do with his own political opinions, nothing to do with the city."

In a report in April, Toronto’s city manager found that the term "Israeli apartheid" does not violate Toronto's anti-discrimination policy, the Criminal Code’s provisions on hate speech or the Ontario Human Rights Code, and that the inclusion of QuAIA in the Pride parade should have no bearing on whether the festival itself receives funding.

Coun. Janet Davis said Mammoliti needs to "move on."

"This matter was reviewed by our city manager. He said unequivocally that they complied with the city's access and equity and human rights policy, and that there was no reason whatsoever to take away funding for Pride," she said. "They have complied with all city policies. Giorgio Mammoliti should put this aside."