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The Globe and Mail

Toronto’s Beaches Easter Parade declared ‘political-free zone’

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford tosses chocolate eggs to the crowd as he walks in the Beaches Easter Parade in Toronto on Sunday March 31, 2013.

chris young The Globe and Mail

The Easter Parade, a decades-old tradition in Toronto's Beaches neighbourhood, has declared itself "a political-free zone," leaving Mayor Rob Ford with 10,000 Easter eggs on his hands.

The local Lions Club that organizes the annual march says it is returning the parade to "community and families." Organizers say the move is not aimed specifically at keeping the city's controversial leader from coming to hand out chocolate, as he has since taking office.

The change has left Mr. Ford with thousands of chocolate treats, ordered before he was told he would no longer be welcomed at the parade. He's hoping to donate them to the Lions Club, even if he is not allowed to distribute them in person.

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"What can you do?" Mr. Ford said Tuesday, after wheeling out a pile of boxes filled with Easter candy to show reporters. "If they don't want us there, they don't want us there. I respect their decision."

Mr. Ford said he only learned of the new policy in an e-mail from organizers Tuesday morning. Staff in Mr. Ford's office contacted the Lions Club on April 1 to register for the April 20 parade.

"I understand what they are doing … I wish they would have told me a little earlier," Mr. Ford said before taking the chocolate back inside his office. "I gotta see if they want my eggs."

Parade director Keith Begley said organizers "would be happy" to take the eggs, but could use some volunteers to hand them out.

His said the three local politicians – Councillor Mary Margaret McMahon, MPP Michael Prue and MP Michael Kellway – were notified about the change in March, but organizers "dropped the ball" and did not tell Mr. Ford.

Mr. Begley said his group took the step because it has become too difficult to "babysit" politicians to make sure they do not break parade rules by carrying political signs, especially in an election year. "We thought it was easier to have a parade for the sake of the Easter Parade and eliminate all of the hassles that go along with politics," said Mr. Begley, who ran for city council in 2010. "We just thought it was time to eliminate all of them."

Organizers of the Santa Claus parade last year told Mr. Ford he was not welcome after he admitted to smoking crack cocaine. Mr. Begley said that is not the case here. "It's not against anyone. It's against all," he said.

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Ms. McMahon, the local councillor, said she is sorry about the decision, but will respect organizers' wishes.

"The Easter Parade is great fun and people expect to see me there and I would like to participate in the fun," she said. Ms. McMahon said she usually rides her bike in the parade and has students hand out vegetable seeds.

Organizers will increase patrols along the parade route to stop politicians from joining the march, but Mr. Begley said there is nothing they can do to prevent them from joining the crowds, which usually swell to more than 45,000.

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