Toronto Pride said it will not challenge the outcome of a Tuesday vote, which banned uniformed police officers from their events indefinitely – despite worries about the organization’s financial future, and dismay from some politicians.
“We understand that this is a contentious policy position," executive director Olivia Nuamah said, adding that it was more difficult for the group’s funding bodies to accept the results of the vote.
The vote was won by a razor-thin margin: 161 votes for police inclusion, and 163 votes against. While Pride hasn’t received any explicit or implicit cues that their funding would be pulled by any government bodies or companies, Ms. Nuamah said its board has identified several potential risks in the road ahead.
“The environment we’re operating in is much more hostile than it ever used to be,” she said, referring to events internationally and in Canada, including increases in police-reported hate crimes and the Ontario government’s roll back of the former sex-ed curriculum.
The most recent tension between Pride and the Toronto police dates back several years. The 2016 march was briefly halted by protesters from Black Lives Matter, who demanded the exclusion of uniformed police officers and cruisers. The force hasn’t been involved in the annual parade since in an institutional capacity.
In October, Ms. Nuamah stood with Mayor John Tory and Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders to announce that Pride’s board of directors would welcome an application from police to march in the 2019 parade.
Leading up to the vote, Pride sent a document to its members that connected the October decision to financial trouble Pride was facing. “Pride Toronto’s position on the participation of the Toronto Police had to come under reconsideration, as it became clear that while our funding arrangements in the past could withstand our policy on police participation, our future funding could not,” the document says.
Pride currently receives hundreds of thousands of dollars from the municipal, provincial and federal governments, and $450,000 in new federal funds was announced in the fall for an initiative focused on improving relations between LGBTQ2+ communities and the criminal justice system. Minutes say the board believed an announcement about police participation would “facilitate funding.”
Pride’s financial strife began in 2016, Ms. Nuamah said, when they “missed a number of deadlines.” The organization then landed in a deficit and the years-long debate on police participation has further strained internal resources; the organization has a small staff, and considerable energy has gone toward the question of police participation in the parade.
Ms. Nuamah says the verdict indicates a “real divide” over what police represent within their communities. “Strip away everything – the drama of ‘were the votes this, were they that,’ and all that stuff – when people were given the opportunity to vote, they voted right down the middle. And it says as much about why Pride has always been contentious, as why it continues to be.”
Neither Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government nor Toronto Mayor John Tory commented Wednesday on the status of funding commitments for Pride moving forward. Toronto councillors had threatened to cancel the city’s $260,000 grant for Pride in 2017, after the organization first banned uniformed police participation. (That motion failed in council.) Mr. Tory declined to say Wednesday whether council should withhold funding in light of the verdict. He told reporters that he found the vote “deeply disappointing.”
Mr. Tory praised Pride, the police and the federal government for their efforts to address “legitimate, outstanding and, in some cases, historic issues” raised about the police by some in the LGBTQ2+ community. He noted the vote was close. But the mayor, who has been involved in talks to have police included in Pride this year, said he hoped a resolution could be found before the 2019 parade.
Meanwhile, Simon Jefferies, a spokesman for Mr. Ford, wrote in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail: “Premier Ford has been clear: front line police officers who work tirelessly to keep our communities safe should be included in Pride events. An event that bills itself as inclusive, like Pride, should not be excluding police.”
Ms. Nuamah’s concern about Pride’s financial situation isn’t shared by all of its members. Christin Milloy, who voted against allowing police involvement on Tuesday night, says Pride is spending money unnecessarily on their events. “It’s time to downsize the party. … Pride did perfectly fine with very little money and no police for many years, and it will do just fine again under those conditions,” she said on Wednesday.
Shawn Ahmed voted in favour of police participation. He hopes both camps accept the verdict and that the “yes" side continues to facilitate meaningful dialogue: “If [government or companies] cut the funding, it’s just as counterproductive and just as harmful to anti-oppression and social liberation as those who are saying the only solution is the abolishment of the police.”
With files from Jeff Gray