Toronto police have made "enormous strides" in their relationships with LGBTQ communities despite recent attempts to undermine police efforts, Chief Mark Saunders said on Wednesday in an open letter that delivered a veiled rebuke to Black Lives Matter Toronto.
It is the first time Chief Saunders has spoken publicly about the discord between police and Pride Toronto since BLM Toronto shut down the Pride parade for a half hour in early July. BLM Toronto let the parade resume after Pride Toronto director Mathieu Chantelois signed a list of demands, including a ban on police floats and booths in future events.
"We value our relationship with Pride and it is important to us to continue playing an active role in the parade," Chief Saunders said in the letter, addressed last week to Pride Toronto's board of directors.
Mr. Chantelois publicly recanted his agreement to BLM Toronto's demands the morning after the parade. Police officers called the ban exclusionary, which Mayor John Tory backed in a letter of support to the police association.
Chief Saunders met with two Pride Toronto organizers a few weeks ago, and asked for a proposal on future police involvement at the event, police spokesman Mark Pugash said.
"It's their parade. I don't think it's up to us to dictate anything," Mr. Pugash said.
Little was resolved at the meeting, prompting Chief Saunders to write to Pride Toronto's board of directors, Mr. Pugash said.
Pride Toronto organizers said they will hold a town hall in August and consult with the LGBTQ community about BLM Toronto's nine demands, which include more funding for community stages and better representation among Pride Toronto staff.
"While we appreciate the efforts of Toronto Police Services to engage and improve relations with marginalized communities, we believe – as they do – that there is more work to be done," the organization said in a statement on Wednesday.
At a news conference in July, BLM Toronto organizers, who did not respond on Wednesday to requests for comment, said they would not back down. "These demands were accepted as full, so we're going to hold Pride accountable," BLM co-founder Rodney Diverlus told reporters.
In his letter, Chief Saunders, who formally apologized in June for the 1981 bathhouse raids, addressed community concerns that police might curtail LGBTQ outreach efforts.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," he said. "I want to assure them, and [Pride Toronto], that we will continue to build on the progress that we have made, while also acknowledging there is much more to be done."
Chief Saunders cited Constable Danielle Bottineau, an LGBTQ liaison officer, for her work in reaching out to LGBTQ communities, and initiatives such as an annual police bursary for LGBTQ youth in Toronto. All new or renovated police buildings will include gender-neutral washrooms, he noted.
But the letter did not acknowledge concerns about police involvement at events that include communities who feel unsafe around police due to profiling and aggression.
BLM Toronto, which has rallied around the issue for more than a year, will host an evening prayer space on Friday to commemorate Abdirahman Abdi, a 37-year-old Ottawa man who died after an altercation with police in late July.