Members of Pride Toronto have voted by a razor-thin margin to keep uniformed police officers out of the city’s annual parade and festivities, in a sharp rejection of a decision made by Pride’s board of directors in the fall.
The decision was made by a margin of 163-161, with a total of 324 members casting votes on Tuesday evening.
Members of the organization voted as part of a special general meeting that was held at Ryerson University. An e-mail circulated in advance said members would be asked the following question: “Should the Toronto Police Service be permitted to participate in Pride Toronto’s Festival Weekend, Parade, and Streetfair, to include their uniforms and vehicles?” Members were told in the e-mail from Pride Toronto that their vote would apply to every regional police service in Ontario, despite the wording being limited to Toronto, and that the force’s major-events team would provide security for the events regardless.
The e-mail also said the outcome of the vote would be binding for two years. During the meeting, however, Pride Toronto said the decision would last indefinitely. For those who couldn’t attend the meeting, codes for online voting were sent out.
The vote result came as a relief to Catherine Crockett and Colin Hinz, who waited outside because they were unable to enter the meeting room due to issues with their memberships. “I’m really relieved. And here’s hoping they back off from trying to do this again,” Ms. Crockett said. “I’m surprised, and elated,” Mr. Hinz said.
Relief also came from inside. “This is an historic cultural moment for Pride in Toronto,” said Christin Milloy, who live-tweeted the meeting.
The vote was held on the heels of an October announcement, when Pride executive director Olivia Nuamah said the board of directors would welcome an application from Toronto police to march in 2019. The decision was met with backlash, with some members expressing concern that a decision had been made without their consultation.
Six months earlier, Pride asked Toronto police to rescind their application to march in 2018. The Toronto Police Service was facing many complaints from the city’s LGBTQ2+ community, including questions about how seriously the force took the disappearances of several men who went missing from the Gay Village and were later found to have been killed. Prior to this, uniformed police were barred from marching in 2017, with organizers endorsing demands made by Black Lives Matter protesters who had halted the 2016 parade.
Questions about the organization’s transparency also arose Tuesday before the meeting. Member Beverly Bain expressed concern specifically about the use of online voting, which she said she hasn’t seen before for a Pride decision. Members had asked for vote scrutineers, she said. “There’s no transparency. Pride Toronto is going to come back with a decision to tell us. ... But we have no way of knowing or verifying that this is what has actually occurred."
Concern was also raised about the number of eligible voters. Nick Mulé, who is not a Pride Toronto member but a member of a group called the No Pride in Policing Coalition, said his group learned that 244 people were added to the Pride Toronto membership list in the 48 hours preceding the vote on police involvement.
Pride Toronto released a statement Tuesday evening acknowledging that there has been a surge of new members and said that it had “thoroughly vetted and verified” them.
“Let it be clear, the staff and Board of Pride Toronto has had no contact with these volunteers with respect to this vote," the statement reads.
A document sent to members before the vote gives a glimpse into the reasons behind the October announcement and the financial trouble the organization is in.
“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.
Federal government funding announced in the fall will mean $450,000 for a Pride Toronto initiative focused on improving relations between Toronto’s LGBTQ2+ communities and the criminal-justice system. Another section of the document says in 2018 the “political climate changed,” and member Gary Kinsman says he believes it is a reference to the election of Premier Doug Ford – who has vocally supported police inclusion at Pride.
Board minutes from Oct. 15, 2018, say that the board believed an announcement about police participation in the 2019 parade would “facilitate funding.” Financial statements show that last year, Pride Toronto received $197,380 from the federal government, $248,750 from the province and $260,000 from the City of Toronto. Pride also listed $19,120 from the Ontario Trillium Foundation provincial agency, though the agency later provided information that said Pride had amortized a deferred contribution from a 2014 grant. Mr. Ford’s spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. Mayor John Tory declined to comment on the vote.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service said the force looks forward to working with the community in the future.
“We remain committed to maintaining a dialogue with Pride Toronto as well as the larger LGBTQ2+ community to deliver policing services that are inclusive and responsive to the needs of the community," Kevin Masterman said.