Councillor Doug Ford defended the decision of his brother, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, not to attend the Pride parade again this year – but in doing so, his critics say, he may have made things worse.
"He's not homophobic," the councillor said on Thursday after his brother said at a mayoral debate that he will not be at the event this summer, when Toronto hosts World Pride. "He has friends who are gay. He just chooses not to go."
But his remarks about the family-friendliness of Pride inflamed some councillors.
"I brought my kids down there. I wouldn't bring my kids back when there's buck-naked men running down the street," Doug Ford said, adding that he has donated to the event.
"There's a lot of great people who make up the city in the gay community who are friends of mine. But no, do I condone men running down the middle of Yonge Street buck naked? Absolutely not."
Councillors were quick to criticize both Doug Ford and the mayor.
"There's a pattern that's been in place this entire term of the mayor making a comment, Doug commenting on it, and it escalates," Councillor Jaye Robinson said. "This is shameful for the city's reputation."
The mayor removed Ms. Robinson from the city's executive committee last year after she urged him to address his personal issues.
Councillor Shelley Carroll, a long-time critic of the mayor who described his comments as "thinly veiled homophobia," echoed Ms. Robinson's remarks about Doug Ford. "This is a guy doing damage control for the candidate who actually needs someone to do damage control for him."
And Kristyn Wong-Tam, the only openly gay councillor at City Hall, said Doug Ford's comments were "outdated" and "playing on homophobic slurs."
She said "those who live in glass houses should not be throwing stones," referring to Mayor Ford.
"If the morality police were to descend on the mayor's office or home, what they would find would be a man who's admitted to crack cocaine use, to alcohol abuse, allegations of sexual harassment [unproven claims in a police document that Mr. Ford has flatly denied] … well-documented incidents of drunken outrage and public urination, and the cultural appropriation of a Jamaican accent. So if there was to be a contest in morality between the mayor and the LGBT community, I think the mayor would lose."
The mayor has said that the Pride parade conflicts with a family tradition of spending Canada Day weekend at the cottage. But at the debate he said, "I'm not going to go to Pride parade. I've never gone to a Pride parade, so I'm not going to change the way I am."
The mayor attended a rainbow flag-raising event in 2012 for family and friends of the lesbian and gay community, but not the parade.
Kevin Beaulieu, executive director of Pride Toronto, said, "It's hard for me to imagine a more family-friendly event than Pride." He added that last year the festival was attended by at least 1,600 children and parents in the specially designated "family" area.
Mr. Beaulieu said Pride has not yet issued invitations, and that he was surprised to hear that the mayor has already declined.
"I've often said, and I stand by it, that the mayor should want to be at Pride," Mr. Beaulieu said of the event, which last year had a $286-million economic impact on the city. "It's an opportunity to show one's support for the LGBT communities, which are still in the struggle for equality and acceptance."
Mr. Beaulieu said about 1.2 million people attended last year's parade, and with Toronto playing host to World Pride, he said he expects up to two million people this year.
Olivia Chow, who is considering running against Mr. Ford in the mayoral race, said she has marched in the parade for 20 years, and that "all elected officials in Toronto should celebrate our diversity. Actions speak louder than words, and Mr. Ford's actions speak volumes."