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A Toronto Police Service parking-enforcement officer waves a Pride flag during the Pride Parade in 2016 (Mark Blinc/THE CANADIAN PRES)
A Toronto Police Service parking-enforcement officer waves a Pride flag during the Pride Parade in 2016 (Mark Blinc/THE CANADIAN PRES)

Pride Toronto should lose public funds if it upholds police ban Add to ...

A Toronto councillor wants the city to consider cutting off funding to the annual Pride festivities over a decision to exclude the Toronto police force. The proposal from John Campbell is a useful warning to an organization gone badly astray.

City hall supports Pride with a $260,000 grant because the event and its joyous parade are a symbol of values – tolerance, acceptance, diversity – that the city embraces. Toronto’s coat of arms bears the slogan “Diversity Our Strength.”

But last summer, activists from Black Lives Matter blocked the parade in mid-flow, demanding, among other things, that Pride ban uniformed police in the future. Under pressure, organizers agreed. Pride Toronto upheld the decision at its annual general meeting. Chief Mark Saunders announced the police force would not participate this year.

Marcus Gee: Limiting police presence at parades a step backward for Pride Toronto

Mr. Campbell, like most sensible people, thinks that is a terrible shame. Having police march in the parade, ride on floats and join in the revelry sent a powerful message: We are on your side now. We are here to protect you, not oppress you. The years in which police were the enemy, raiding bathhouses and rounding up gay people, are over. Many gay and lesbian police officers joined in the parade, making the point that, within the police force as well as without, they are out and proud.

Banning the police was a big step backward. Mr. Campbell argues that Pride has been bullied into a self-defeating position. “Pending Pride’s reaffirmation of its core value of inclusivity,” he proposes to end city funding.

No one really wants it to come to that. Pride is an important city festival and it deserves city hall’s support.

Mayor John Tory has said he hopes that Pride will work through its internal divisions on this issue and welcome the police. Chief Saunders said the force was pulling out “to enable those differences to be addressed.”

Mr. Campbell says he held off on his proposal till now because he was told discussions with Pride were going on. He will not bring his motion to the floor of city council, he says, if he learns that the city is making progress toward a resolution. He told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning that the motion simply aims to say to Pride leaders: “I think it’s time to reconsider your position.”

But if they don’t, and Pride insists on upholding this foolish ban, it becomes hard to justify supporting the event with public funds. It becomes hard for the mayor to join in if the police chief is shut out. It becomes hard to see Pride in the same way at all – as an affirmation of the values the city strives to uphold.

It wouldn’t do for city hall simply to stand by as if nothing happened and continue doling out money to a Pride that had banned the police force from taking part in such a major city event. It would condone the bullying tactics of Black Lives Matter and give Pride a pass for succumbing to that bullying.

It is Pride’s call in the end. It has the right to ban police if it wishes. But city hall has no obligation to underwrite that decision. If Pride insists on going ahead with the ban, city hall should pull its funding in protest.

Let’s hope Mr. Campbell’s shot across the bow has some effect. It would be unfortunate to see this wonderful event overshadowed by such a silly act of exclusion. One of the things that makes Pride so wonderful is that, these days, everyone joins in. Banks, airlines and insurance companies sponsor it. Mayors, premiers and prime ministers march. Doctors, engineers, firefighters and nurses walk side by side.

Police are right in there, too, high-fiving everyone and waving rainbow flags. Anger at the police was one of the motivating forces behind early Pride parades. That police now march in lockstep with the people they once helped persecute is an unmistakable sign of progress.

Google “police and Pride and squirt guns” and you come across a video of a bald, burly cop having a water fight in the sun with laughing fellow marchers. How sad it would be if Pride never saw scenes like that again.

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Follow on Twitter: @marcusbgee

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Toronto police chief on why force won't march in Pride parade (The Canadian Press)

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