The Toronto Police Service will not participate in the city's Pride parade this year, its chief announced Friday in the wake of a recent, contentious decision by Pride Toronto members to ban police floats and stalls from the annual big-budget summer event of the LGBTQ community.
"We understand the LGBTQ communities are divided. To enable those differences to be addressed, I have decided the Toronto Police Service will not participate," Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said in a statement released Friday morning.
Mr. Saunders's remarks did not mention any communication his service had with Pride members. It is understood that the department had not received any official notification from Pride organizers more than three weeks after their decision.
The force's decision came after Pride's annual general meeting last month agreed to demands presented by Black Lives Matter Toronto, who said that the city's police had a history of targeting black residents, and that an official police involvement created an unwelcome atmosphere for the community's more marginalized members.
Black Lives Matter's growing role in the event first became widely public last summer when the group staged a sit-in that halted the parade for 30 minutes.
Pride Toronto issued a communiqué Friday acknowledging that, "What we have seen from the Toronto Police Service is that they are also listening and their actions reflect a commitment to continuing the conversation with our community to move forward."
While stating that individual officers were still welcome in the march, the communiqué reiterated the argument that the Pride celebration needs to "[create] a space where we can all feel at home."
The Toronto chapter of Black Lives — which has been at the centre of the controversy over police participation in the parade — said it was disappointed with Mr. Saunders's statement.
"They are trying to flip the narrative and make it seem as if they are choosing to pull out of Pride when in fact they were uninvited," said spokesperson Syrus Marcus Ware.
He said they are frustrated that Mr. Saunders's statement makes no mention of issues such as "anti-blackness and policing" and carding — a controversial practice of street checks that the group says targets young black, brown and indigenous people.
Mr. Saunders said the service will continue to hold its Pride reception. That annual social gathering at police headquarters is where he apologized last year for the 1981 gay bathhouse raids, a pivotal event which triggered the protests that eventually led to the annual parade.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said he was frustrated and disappointed with the split between Pride organizers and police, but that he respected his chief's move.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, he said he hoped the decision would ease tensions and allow time for all sides to sit down and perhaps find a way to actually include police in the parade.
"I think … he's trying to do something to reduce the temperature here, take the heat down, and thus maybe make it possible actually to find a resolution to this," Mr. Tory said.
The mayor said Pride should be a festival of "inclusion," and that he believed a majority of the LGBTQ community agree that relations have improved in recent years.
Mayor John Tory said he was disappointed with Pride's decision. "I remain hopeful that the parties involved can find a way to resolve this issue as soon as possible," he said in a statement.
With a report from Jeff Gray