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Toronto Pride grant in limbo as Queers Against Israeli Apartheid plan to march

Gay and bisexual women carry a giant rainbow flag down Yonge street while taking part in the Dyke March during Gay Pride week in Toronto June 25, 2005. The annual celebration of gay and lesbian rights is one of the largest in the world, attracting over one million visitors for the week-long festivities.

J.P. MOCZULSKI/J.P. Moczulski/REUTERS

Toronto Pride Week's funding from the city is safe – for now.

Council's economic development committee on Tuesday endorsed more than $6-million in grants to Toronto's 10 major arts organizations, including $123,807 for Pride Toronto, without questions or debate.

"We appreciate the support and [we're]glad with the result today, obviously," Kevin Beaulieu, the executive director of Pride Toronto, said after the committee vote. "It certainly helps us to put on the festival every year."

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But the Pride grant's passage likely won't be as smooth at city council, where some members have already talked about withholding Pride's funding if a controversial group called Queers Against Israeli Apartheid is allowed to march in the Pride Parade July 1.

Council has the final say on whether Pride receives the grant, which supports the 10-day Pride Week festival.

"It's been no secret to the Pride organizers that we do not approve of this group [QuAIA]participating," Councillor James Pasternak said. "It's a form of bullying and demonization and it just would not meet the threshold of city funding."

The North York councillor added that he would support any motions at council that would defer cutting Pride a cheque until after the parade, on the condition QuAIA doesn't march.

Along with the grant, the city usually provides about $300,000 in policing and clean-up services for the parade.

QuAIA, which opposes Israel's treatment of Palestinians, confirmed last week that it intends to apply for a spot in this year's parade before the June 1 deadline.

Mr. Beaulieu said he has yet to see an application from the group.

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If QuAIA applies and a complaint is filed, a new third-party dispute resolution panel will determine whether the organization is allowed in the parade.

Critics of QuAIA take offence at the term "Israeli Apartheid," which they consider an unfair comparison to apartheid-era South Africa.

Toronto's city manager concluded last year that the words "Israeli Apartheid" in and of themselves do not violate the city's anti-discrimination policy. Pride's grant is contingent on complying with that policy.

After the city manager's ruling last April, council asked staff to revise its anti-discrimination policy. A report on the new policy is expected in June.

"We've told the city manager to plug this hole," Mr. Pasternak said. "We're not expecting another apologetic document. We're expecting a firm statement that the term Israeli Apartheid is discriminatory."

After igniting a firestorm of controversy during the election summer of 2010, QuAIA's leaders opted to skip the parade in 2011, saying they didn't want to provide Mayor Rob Ford an excuse to deprive Pride of funding.

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"This year, especially since the theme is celebrate and demonstrate, we thought we should be back," Tony Souza, a QuAIA member, told The Globe and Mail last week. "We're a legitimate group just like anybody else and the city manager's report says we're not a hate group, we don't speak ill of anybody else."

Pride's grant was the smallest of the 10 approved at the economic development committee.

The rest of the more than $6-million went to the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Canadian Opera Company, Caribana, the Toronto International Film Festival and five other major arts organizations.

Council, which already set aside the grant envelope in its 2012 budget, still has to vote on the allocations.

The amounts are unchanged from 2011.

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