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Toronto Toronto Pride Parade strikes sombre tone, memorializing LGBTQ victims

Elizabeth Zylsky, left, and Kevin Rambally, right, march honouring the lives of those believed to be victims by alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur during the Toronto Pride Parade on June 24, 2018. "I am marching because of the amount of tragedy this community has felt and as a white person I feel the need to support and try to help provide a louder voice to our queer brothers and sisters," says Ms. Zylsky.

Michelle Siu

Toronto’s annual Pride Parade, usually a colourful and joyous celebration, was sombre at times on Sunday as marchers and spectators remembered the alleged victims of suspected serial killer Bruce McArthur.

Thousands of people lined the sidewalks across a stretch of Yonge Street to watch groups march this year’s rainy parade route.

An hour into the parade, a moment of silence was held to remember LGBTQ victims of violence. Tensions have flared in recent months between police and members of the LGBTQ community over the former’s handling of the McArthur investigation. For the second year in a row, uniformed police officers did not participate in the parade.

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One marcher held a sign that read “Who will protect me now?” – an indication of the community’s strained relationship with police.

Paraders take a brief moment of silence for LGBTQ victims of violence during the Toronto Pride Parade in Toronto on June 24, 2018.

Michelle Siu

The parade ended with a march called Until We’re Safe, which was led by organizers and volunteers wearing black. The barriers were opened and organizers invited onlookers to join the march.

Pride Toronto’s executive director Olivia Nuamah said the march was to remember the eight alleged victims of Mr. McArthur, along with others who have been affected by hate crimes and feel unsafe.

“We need to come out together in a very public show of support for each other and the community as a whole,” she said in an interview during the parade. “What we’re really trying to do is show support for every member of the LGBTQ community, no matter where they come from.”

Several union leaders and politicians, including Toronto Mayor John Tory, provincial NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and departing Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne attended the event. Premier-designate Doug Ford did not attend Sunday’s parade, and had previously indicated to reporters that he would have considered going if uniformed police were allowed to participate.

Although uniformed police officers did not march in the parade, they were on hand as the streets flooded with onlookers.

Michele Monett wears a dress made of police tape during the Toronto Pride Parade on June 24, 2018. "I am wearing this because of what is happening with the police and what has come to light with the Bruce McArthur charges. Police need to be held accountable for their actions. They need to be more than just a flag on a pole or a face in a parade," Monett says.

Michelle Siu

Police have come under fire from the LGBTQ community in recent years. After several men disappeared starting in the fall of 2010, the LGBTQ community complained police were not taking their fears of a serial killer seriously.

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Mr. McArthur, a landscaper, was arrested in January and was subsequently charged with eight counts of first-degree murder.

Ms. Horwath wore a black arm band around her wrist Sunday to signify the “poignant” and “painful” moment the community has faced after the deaths of eight of Mr. McArthur’s alleged victims.

“There are still tensions with the police, and I believe that dialogue has to continue to happen and that it will resolve with respect from both sides, but those things are part of the context of moving us forward as a province and as a city, and I’m happy to be here and part of that positive revolution,” Ms. Horwath said.

Viewers blow confetti onto the Toronto Pride Parade below as they cheer in Toronto on June 24, 2018.

Michelle Siu

In remarks to The Globe and Mail editorial board earlier this year, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said that Mr. McArthur would have been identified sooner had those in the community been more forthcoming with investigators, comments many in the community saw as blaming the victims for police failures.

Tensions involving the parade and police are not new. Members of Black Lives Matter interrupted the parade in 2016 and presented several demands, including uniformed officers be excluded from marching.

Pride organizers endorsed the demands and barred police from marching in last year’s parade.

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With files from the Canadian Press

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