How will we know when police have earned their way back to Toronto Pride?: Robyn Urback

Perhaps it would be prudent for Black Lives Matter to define some sort of tangible criteria delineating how, and when, and by what measure police conduct would be acceptable enough for them to participate in Pride again.

Need criteria to decide when police are distant enough from their past and innocuous enough in their present

Perhaps it would be prudent for Black Lives Matter to define some sort of tangible criteria delineating how, and when, and by what measure police conduct would be acceptable enough for them to participate in Pride parades. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

If we accept that uniformed police officers should be banned from Pride parades in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa because of their history of persecution of racialized, gay and other minority communities, as some local Black Lives Matter (BLM) groups and their supporters contend, then a number of other groups should likewise be prohibited from joining the festivities.

The Canadian Armed Forces is one such example. The group has participated in the Toronto Pride event for years, despite a rather pockmarked history when it comes to its treatment of Canada's black and gay communities.

Homosexuality in the military

During the First World War, for example, the Canadian Forces prohibited black soldiers from joining other units, which resulted in Canada's first and only segregated military unit: the No. 2 Construction Battalion. It also maintained a homophobic administrative order on its books until 1992 — CFAO 19-20 — which essentially allowed the military to dismiss members who had committed "abnormal" homosexual acts.

But if the demand to exclude uniformed police officers from Pride this year is more about historical and ongoing discrimination, then perhaps BLM and its supporters should instead focus their attention on the various members of regional school boards — institutions that, historically, discriminated against black students, and arguably continue to subjugate minority student populations.

Until recently, for example, the York Region District School Board, which participates in the York Region version of Toronto's Pride parade, had a trustee who called a black mother the "n-word." While the chair and others on the board urged her to step down — and she finally did several months after she used the slur — the episode compounded existing concerns about the way the board north of Toronto handles racism complaints.

West of the city, the Peel District School Board's lacklustre support of black students has likewise been noted. And for years, schools in B.C. were criticized for failing to adequately support LGBT students, though the B.C. government did issue new provincewide anti-bullying measures last year.

Chief Mark Saunders says Toronto police won't participate in Pride parade 1:07

If the issue is more so about visibility, as some BLM supporters say, noting that police are still welcome to participate in Pride as long as they're not wearing their uniforms, then perhaps Pride should consider also asking clergymen not to wear their collars during marches and parades.

The religious leaders who choose to join in on Pride activities — such as those from the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto — are obviously open, welcoming and inclusive, though some Pride-goers might find the symbols triggering because of the many religious groups and institutions that are not so open, welcoming and inclusive.

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

But if we accept that the police are being singled out because of the severity of their brutality against Canada's black and LGBT communities — both past and present — which is a defensible position, then perhaps it would be prudent for BLM to define some sort of tangible criteria delineating how, and when, and by what measure police conduct would be acceptable enough for them to participate in the marches again.

Revoking the ban

At what point will police be distant enough from their past, like the Canadian Forces, innocuous enough in their present, like the education system, and adequately inoffensive in their image, like religious leaders, to once again be able to show their solidarity?

If we accept the notion that individuals have to carry misdeeds of the people before them — and the reputations of the worst among them — then it makes sense to prohibit any uniformed officer from participating in Pride activities.

But if we recognize that people are more than simply facets of the groups to which they belong, we'd know better than to paint them all with the same brush.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Robyn Urback


Robyn Urback is an opinion columnist with CBC News and a producer with the CBC's Opinion section. She previously worked as a columnist and editorial board member at the National Post. Follow her on Twitter at:


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.