Canadians look with pity on their cousins to the south when they see the rancour, division and sheer stupidity that marks political life in the United States these days. But those qualities are creeping into our politics, too. One small example is what has happened to Toronto’s Pride parade.
The annual parade draws thousands of people to downtown Toronto for a loud, joyous and often raunchy celebration. Half protest, half party, the parade and the month of events that surround it are a highlight of the festive year. The mayor, the premier and even the prime minister have joined in. Nurses, firefighters and engineers march, too – but not, for the past couple of years, police. Caught up in the sour politics of us against them, Pride organizers banned uniformed cops from taking part. The ban was confirmed this week when the group’s membership voted narrowly to extend it. A more futile, more self-defeating policy is hard to imagine.
Having cops march sends an important message. It shows that police have moved on from the days of bathhouse raids and gay-bar busts. It shows that police are no longer the enemy. It shows that a once outcast community is fully part of the city’s life. The fact that many gay and lesbian police officers join the march only reinforces the message: It’s okay to be out.
The police ban is a giant step backward. It is not even clear it’s what the community wants. Tuesday’s 163-161 vote to keep police from participating illustrates how divided opinion is.
The ban first took effect after the protest group Black Lives Matter blocked the 2016 parade in mid-flow and demanded police be kept out in future. Endless debate and many meetings since have failed to calm feelings.
Pride’s board decided last fall to welcome an application for police to march in 2019 after a two-year absence. A raucous annual general meeting in December was shut down when angry members of the group tried to overturn that decision. This week’s meeting was the next round, although probably not the last.
Charges of vote stacking and other forms of manipulation are flying around. Some activists are trying to oust Pride’s executive director. Others are even questioning whether continuing the parade in its current form makes sense.
It’s an embarrassing mess that has overshadowed a wonderful event. Pride is struggling as it is. A recent report from an auditor said it was $700,000 in debt. The police issue may be compromising its ability to raise funds. It is certainly compromising the spirit of the parade, which should be all about inclusion, diversity and solidarity. Excluding police drives a wedge between the gay community and those who are supposed to be protecting it. How does that help anyone?
Some Pride members say they simply don’t trust the police. They note that, despite fears in the community that something awful was going on, police failed to catch an apparent serial killer who was preying on men in the Gay Village. Police have since charged landscaper Bruce McArthur with eight counts of first-degree murder.
A degree of mistrust is understandable. There are legitimate questions about how police conducted their investigation and whether they took the warnings seriously. But banning police from Pride is no way to repair relations between community and cops.
Now, more than ever, it is important to show that police stand by the community. Now, more than ever, the two need to work together in the interest of safety and security. Instead, we have this ugly little war over who should be allowed to join a parade.
The Pride affair is a prime example of how weird and silly things can get when today’s overheated politics take hold. Minds close. Walls go up. Tempers rise. We’ve seen it happening south of the border. We could see more of it here, too, unless we watch out.