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Volunteer program designed to make events safer will cost city $25,000 this year

People dance on a float as it passes by during the annual Vancouver Pride Parade in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, Sunday, July 31, 2011.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail/Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver's annual Pride parade isn't getting any financial assistance from the city – yet – but a new legion of volunteers could help take some pressure off the popular procession.

Mayor Gregor Robertson on Wednesday officially launched the Vancouver Volunteer Corps program, in which roving volunteers clad in blue polo shirts and vests serve as extra sets of eyes and ears at major civic events. They will be trained to supplement city staff in the event of emergencies or natural disasters.

Actually, 35 volunteers made their debut at last week's Celebration of Light festivities; the city aims to increase the figure to 1,500 over the next four years. While it has not yet been confirmed they will work this year's Pride parade on Sunday, Daniel Stevens, the city's acting director of emergency management, expects "there will be some presence."

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Tim Richards, president of the Vancouver Pride Society, said the parade depends on about 150 volunteers, and every additional body helps.

"It would be extremely helpful, given the number of people that we have at the parade," he said. "We have hundreds of thousands of people who come to watch every year, so having a group of people to provide direction to people, to allow them to know where the best spots are, to distribute the crowds – that would be very helpful."

The city has for years had an "ongoing discussion" about granting the Pride parade civic status, said Councillor Raymond Louie, who is also chair of the city's finance committee.

Such a designation would see the city, rather than event organizers, foot the roughly $70,000 bill for policing and sanitation.

Currently, the only events with such a designation are the Celebration of Light fireworks festival and the Grey Cup parade. The budget for the fireworks last year was $686,000 – with the Vancouver police spending "a bit more, as a precaution" after the Stanley Cup riot – while the Grey Cup cost $212,000, Mr. Louie said.

Their civic statuses were granted by past councils; successive councils have maintained them.

"There's been some contemplation on adding additional events to civic status," he said.

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"It hasn't moved forward because they are costly and we haven't been able to find money in our operating budget. … When these nice-to-haves are brought forward, we do seriously consider them, but at the end of the day we're trying to keep taxes as low as possible while providing key quality services."

Organizers of the Vaisakhi and Lunar New Year parades have also inquired about acquiring civic status, Mr. Louie said.

Should the city choose to designate another parade, council will look at its economic impact and cultural significance as key measuring sticks.

In the meantime, the Pride parade can expect a hand from the Vancouver Volunteer Corps program, the idea for which was inspired by the success of the Olympic Games volunteer program and recommendations from the Stanley Cup riot review, Mr. Stevens said.

The program will cost the city $25,000 this year, with $18,500 going to startup costs for shirts, water bottles, tents and manuals.

The sum does not include a new position created within the city's fire department whose role is partly dedicated to the program's co-ordination, Mr. Stevens said. Each volunteer costs the city $36.

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