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A woman holds a flag during the Pride parade in Toronto on June 25, 2017.Mark Blinch

The police handling of an alleged serial killer targeting gay men has complicated discussions between Pride Toronto and police about whether officers will be welcomed back to march in this year's Pride Parade.

Toronto Police were banned from marching in uniform starting with last year's event, after Pride met demands made by the Black Lives Matter activists who blocked the 2016 parade. The exclusion prompted some on City Council to call for an end to the event's $260,000 municipal grant. At the time, Mayor John Tory supported maintaining city funding for 2017, but said he wanted uniformed police included in the parade in 2018.

Pride's executive director, Olivia Nuamah, says talks between Pride, police and the city about this year's event in June are under way, but warns the tension over police participation is "a significant issue."

Many in the LGBTQ community have questioned whether police did enough to find the missing gay men now alleged to be victims of accused serial killer Bruce McArthur. The controversy heated up this week after comments made by Police Chief Mark Saunders, who told The Globe and Mail's editorial board that tips from civilians could have helped police make an arrest sooner.

Two Pride board members, speaking on condition of anonymity, said police submitted their formal application to march in the parade in recent weeks – although it's not clear if that application involves them participating with their police uniforms or not. Ms. Nuamah would not comment on the application.

Members of the Pride board confirmed that conversations with police had been beset by frustrations in the community over their handling of the McArthur case, only to be derailed further by Chief Saunders's comments.

A spokesman for the mayor said Mr. Tory supports funding Pride and is trying to rebuild trust between police and the LGBTQ community. He has called for an internal review of the force's missing-person investigations to be made public.

"The mayor has always said he wants to see police back in the Pride Parade but has repeatedly said that any resolution will have to come about as a result of ongoing discussions between police and Pride," spokesman Don Peat said in an e-mail. "The mayor has consistently supported funding Pride, and continues to do so."

This year's vote on funding Pride won't come to City Council until spring.

A police spokesperson wouldn't answer questions about talks with Pride, except to say that both sides are "in discussions" and that "no final decisions have been made."

Sources close to the discussions said Pride and police expected to have a new agreement this spring, but the tone of the dialogue changed after a string of crimes unsettled the city's LGBTQ community. Frustrations in the community boiled over after two women were found dead near the community. Tess Richey's body was discovered by her mother four days after she went missing, just steps away from where she was last seen. The body of Alloura Wells, who was a member of the community, was discovered last August but not identified until November. Chief Saunders has ordered a review into how the service handles missing-persons cases, admitting that police could have done better in those cases. Police have laid charges in Ms. Richey's murder, but Ms. Wells's cause of death is still undetermined.

Earlier discussions had involved how best to let officers, especially members of the LGBTQ community who serve with the force, join the parade out-of-uniform, but sources say the conversation is now about the level of involvement police will have at all.

While the $260,000 in city grants may not be the bulk of the funding for Pride, one board member feared that, should the festival lose its support from the city, it could have a domino effect on other sponsors to pull out.

There is also pressure on the Pride Festival to cover the losses posted last year. Financial statements for the 2016-17 fiscal year show that the organization had, after breaking even the two years prior, run a $1.3-million deficit which left the organization nearly $500,000 in the red at the end of the year. That financial situation was largely due to sharp drops in donations and the loss of several grants and sponsorships.

Senior Pastor Jeff Rock called for solidarity during a candlelight vigil held Sunday to mourn the deaths of several men in Toronto's LGBTQ community. Police have charged Bruce McArthur with five counts of first-degree murder.

The Canadian Press

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