After a tumultuous year for LGBTQ-police relations in Toronto, the second annual Pride flag-raising at the city’s police headquarters took on a tone of reconciliation.
Speaking on behalf of Chief Mark Saunders, Inspector David Rydzik said the Pride flag, which will stay up during June for Pride Month, was “a symbolic gesture of our commitment” to LGBTQ communities, and that the police would work to improve those relationships.
“Admittedly, over the past several months, those partnerships have been challenged,” said Insp. Rydzik, unit commander of Community Partnerships and Engagement.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said that while the LGBTQ community’s anger around the disappearances that led up to the Bruce McArthur investigation has hindered talks on including police in the annual Pride parade this year, he believes next year will be different.
“There has been huge progress made from where we were last year, even though, unfortunately, the police are not in the parade this year, for a different set of reasons. I am pretty optimistic that they will be next year,” Mr. Tory said.
Pride Toronto’s executive director, Olivia Nuamah, said she too believed police were likely to be included in next year’s parade, despite the derailing of efforts this year partly due to controversial comments made by Police Chief Mark Saunders. Earlier this year, in remarks to The Globe and Mail editorial board, Chief Saunders said that Mr. McArthur, the alleged serial killer of men with ties to the gay village, would have been caught sooner had more in the community come forward with information – a comment many took as blaming the victims for police failures.
“I believe that Bruce McArthur, and everything around that, how that messaging was handled, ultimately led to us having to reconsider our conversations,” Ms. Nuamah said, stressing that both Pride Toronto and police remain committed to improving the relationship.
There has been huge progress made from where we were last year.— Toronto Mayor John Tory
Grassroots activist Nicki Ward said it was unsurprising that Chief Saunders missed the ceremony.
“In a year where we’ve had the experiences you’ve had … it’s [hard] to be surprised any more,” she said, noting the sparse attendance at the ceremony, which was closed to the public.
“We’ve established good working relationships with street-level [police] that are pragmatic and based on mutual respect, and if Chief Saunders is looking for a model on how to do things right, he could maybe learn a thing or two from street level instead of 100 feet off the ground,” she said.
Rev. Brent Hawkes, who officiated the world’s first legal same-sex marriage in 2001, acknowledged at Friday’s event that it had been a “rough year” with “mistakes made on both sides.”
“However,” he said, “I remember when it was much, much, much worse. I remember a day when we couldn’t even get to sit down with the police. A day when the police were seen as to be the main enemy and the main challenge, along with the queer-bashers. I remember the day when I was held by two police officers and beaten by a third at a demonstration.”
Constable Danielle Bottineau, the Toronto Police Service’s LGBT liaison officer, told The Globe and Mail she would like to march in next year’s parade, but it’s too early to think about right now.
Toronto police have also run a pilot liaison program for the past six months, where members of LGBT communities who wish to report crimes are connected with LGBT officers.
“Right now, the community needs to have reassurances and trust in our service,” she said. “There’s still a lot of work to do, but this is our first stepping stone.”
Asked about comments by provincial Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford, who would not say whether he would attend the Pride parade, Mr. Tory said his former rival for the Toronto mayor’s job should march in this year’s event, and was welcome to march with him.
With a report from The Canadian Press