8 min

All signs must be vetted with us first: Pride Toronto

UPDATE, Mar 14: Pride Toronto releases parade terms

Revellers get into the mood during Pride Toronto in 2009. Credit: Nicola Betts

UPDATE, Mar 16, 7:30 am: The Don’t sanitize Pride facebook group appraoches 1,100 members. Check back here later today for an update on this story.

UPDATE, Mar 14, 7am: Pride Toronto posted its Terms and Conditions of Participation document online yesterday, as the Don’t sanitize Pride: Free expression must prevail facebook group surpassed 700 members.

“Everyone who thinks this is ‘censorship’ should take note that none of this is anything new,” wrote Sandilands on Facebook. “Last year, Parade entrants’ messaging had to be approved by the Parade Committee. The only thing that has changed is that there will be a committee set up that includes community members who will do this in a more organized fashion.

“The real purpose of this is to ensure that if someone turns up with real hate messaging – which has happened before in the history of Pride Toronto – that the mechanisms are in place to remove them and we don’t all stand helplessly by. Its not about preventing freedom of speech at any time. It’s about being proactive to ensure the measures are in place to protect everyone that takes part and everyone that comes to watch.”

But Xtra has noted no notable cases of homophobic violence, or even anti-gay protests, during Pride in Toronto in recent years. Nor has Xtra noted any movement among gay and lesbian people (other than by Pride Toronto) to limit free expression in Toronto’s Pride parade.

Rick Telfer, one of the administrators on the Don’t sanitize Pride Facebook group, responded to Sandilands there:

Tracey Sandilands, Executive Director of Pride Toronto Inc., has responded to recent concerns about censorship in the 2010 Toronto Pride Parade. She writes: “As usual there is a lot of misinformation being circulated. […] Everyone who thinks this is ‘censorship’ should take note that none of this is anything new. The only thing that has changed is that there will be a committee set up that includes community members who will do this in a more organized fashion.”

Unfortunately, Ms. Sandilands omits a very pertinent fact. Namely, Point 7 in the Terms and Conditions is in fact new this year. It reads: “The Applicant agrees to present in writing all messaging and signage developed and planned for use in the Parade for approval by Pride Toronto by June 18th, 2010. Any messaging and signage that does not receive the organization’s approval or that receives a clear refusal will not be permitted in the Parade.”

Also relevant is the fact that this new policy emerged in the context of a debate about the presence in the parade of particular political/activist causes and messages involving many members of the LGBTQ community. Despite this truth, Ms. Sandilands claims that the “real purpose […] is to ensure that if someone turns up with real hate messaging […] that the mechanisms are in place to remove them.”

Are we really supposed to believe that Point 7 is all about preventing “hate”? Is “hate” not already illegal? Would the community not already fully support the removal of “hate”?

Seemingly lost on Ms. Sandilands and Pride Toronto Inc. is the fact that Point 7 is wide open to interpretation and, therefore, abuse. Freedom of expression is at risk. Undoubtedly we can all agree that “hate” is unacceptable and unwelcome. But Point 7 does not refer to “hate” and “hate” remains undefined. Furthermore, the logisitics of pre-approval will be incredibly laborious and frustrating.

It appears that the new policy — being as open-ended and all-encompassing as it is — could empower Pride Toronto Inc. to limit freedom of expression within the Toronto Pride Parade. The policy could very well embolden those within Pride Toronto Inc. to deny signage that some find politically disagreeable — and not merely hateful. Indeed, perhaps this is the real purpose of Point 7.

So, who are we trying to please? Corporate sponsors? Lobby groups?

You are strongly encouraged to e-mail Ms. Sandilands and all members of the board of directors of Pride Toronto Inc. You can reach them via:,,,,,,,,,

Just copy and paste these addresses and send your message. Pride Toronto Inc. needs to hear that we do not support the new requirement for pre-approval, that we support freedom of expression to the greatest reasonable extent, and that Pride belongs to us — not to an “Ethics Committee”, not to corporate sponsors, and not to external lobby groups. Your message need not be lengthy.


I am writing to express my opposition to Pride Toronto Inc.’s
new pre-approval policy pertaining to messaging and signage
in the Pride Parade. Pride Toronto Inc. must uphold freedom
of expression to the greatest possible extent. Point 7 will
pose serious logistical problems for many participants and
is much too susceptible to misuse and abuse. Political
expression is the origin of Toronto Pride. Members of the
LGBTQ community must be permitted to maintain that tradition
in all of their diversity.

Rick Telfer

UPDATE, Mar 13, 1pm: As the Don’t sanitize Pride Facebook group nears 650 members, Pride Toronto executive director Tracey Sandilands tweeted this morning, “Lots of misinformation and lies being spread again. Parade terms will be online by end of Mon. After that questions can be asked #PrideTO.”

UPDATE, Mar 12, 4pm: More than 400 people have joined the Facebook group Don’t sanitize Pride: Free expression must prevailsince it was created on Thursday afternoon.

Pride Toronto tweeted Friday afternoon: “New #PrideTO Parade + Dyke March terms + conditions to be rlsed Mon. eve, if u still have questions, email our ED”


Mar 11: All groups participating in this year’s Pride Parade and Dyke March must have their signs approved by Pride Toronto, the organization announced yesterday.

In a press release, Pride Toronto co-chair Jim Cullen wrote that all messages must “support the theme of the 2010 festival, celebrating ’30 Years of Pride in Toronto.'”

The move has sparked outrage from activists who see this is a further attempt by Pride Toronto to distance itself from its political roots and as an indirect attack on the involvement of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA), whose dustup with Pride made mainstream headlines at last year’s festival.

“It’s pretty surprising to see Pride Toronto invested in an active moulding of the types of participation they want to see in the Parade,” says Natalie Kouri-Towe, a member of QuAIA who marched with the group last year.

“I can only imagine this is a response to the targeting Pride received last year against the supposed ban of QuAIA from the Parade.”

Reports in 2009 suggested Pride might prevent the QuAIA from marching. Pride insisted that they only required QuAIA to register before marching, and ultimately they were allowed to participate. But their involvement has drawn criticism from Zionist groups, and there is a suspicion among queer activists that this new policy is an attempt to stem future controversy.

Gary Kinsman, one of the founders of the original Pride Day in Toronto and a former active member of the Simon Nkodi Anti-Apartheid Committee that campaigned against apartheid in South Africa, expressed serious concern at Pride’s announcement.

“I’m really quite disturbed about this,” says Kinsman. “That [Pride has] new types of criteria that can be used to bar people — rather than welcoming people into our movements to express their political views, as long as they’re not expressing hatred or bigotry, it’s a bit frightening.”

Kinsman also expressed alarm at the vagueness of Pride Toronto’s criteria for determining what messages are acceptable.

“The only requirement that I could see is that [signs] must conform to the theme. If that’s interpreted in a narrow sense, that could affect other groups within our liberation movements who are raising issues and concerns that don’t in a narrow way relate to the theme for that particular year,” he says.

Pride Toronto co-chair Jim Cullen refused to give specific examples of signage that would either meet or violate the terms of the new policy. Despite stating in the press release that the new policy was a response to community feedback, Cullen declined to comment on specific feedback that had informed Pride’s decisions.

“The policy was not based on any particular word or group,” he says.

In response to a question about whether there have been past incidents of groups carrying signs that incite violence or hate, Cullen said, “No comment.”

Cullen added, “We’re trying to focus on the future, not on reviewing what’s already been done.”

But with Pride Toronto organizers tightlipped, activist groups were left to wonder what the fallout might be.

QuAIA member Chelsey Lichtman suggests that the new policy might have broad implications, not just for her organization but for other groups.

“It’s an interesting move to essentially dictate what people are allowed to march about in a Pride parade. It’s almost a form of silencing. People wait all year for Pride to be able to be political in such an open and public way. That’s what Pride is about,” Lichtman says.

The policy is ostensibly to prevent groups from marching in Pride whose intention is to promote discrimination or hate. But, as Kouri-Towe points out, this has not historically been a problem in the parade.

“The reality is that hate groups are not participating. There hasn’t been a context for this,” she says.

“[It seems] they are responding to the suggestion that QuAIA are a hate group … There’s nothing we did last year that was deemed hate speech. The police and Pride Toronto looked at our banners last year, and people from Pride celebrated afterwards that we had participated in a very peaceful way.”

Despite the new rules, Lichtman insists that QuAIA will still march this year:

“If they want banners that say something about the 30th Anniversary of Pride, we’re going to follow the rules. There’s no reason why we won’t march. We’re just going to have to get clever about it.”

Read the full text of Pride Toronto’s press release below:

* * *

10 March 2010

Pride Toronto focuses on celebrating 30 years in Parade

New terms of participation include staying on theme

Toronto, ON

This week Pride Toronto unveiled revised terms and conditions for groups applying to participate in the 2010 Parade and Dyke March. As part of Pride’s efforts to respond to community feedback, participating groups will be asked to ensure that messages support the theme of the 2010 festival, celebrating “30 Years of Pride” in Toronto.

Pride has worked diligently to manage significant increases in attendance and activities over recent years, while ensuring the festival maintains a strong connection with the local community.

“In reaching out to the community, we have received exciting feedback on many topics over the past year,” said Jim Cullen, Co-Chair of Pride Toronto’s Board of Directors. “Our community sees Pride as a celebration of who we are and how far we have come. So we’re asking all parade participants to focus on that.”

In past years, Parade participants were asked to agree to non-discrimination policies and act in a manner supportive of the celebration of Pride.

Similar to policies already in place for other major Pride festivals, Pride Toronto will now require all Pride Parade and Dyke March participants ensure their messages support the theme of the year’s festival. Participating groups must agree to avoid any messages that promote violence or hatred and to have their messages and signage approved by the Ethics Committee of Pride Toronto in advance of the event. Groups who fail to cooperate with the new practices will be denied permission to take part or removed from the line-up if necessary.

“We are promoting freedom of expression and diversity in a way that is positive and supportive of our community. We hope to include everybody who wants to participate,” said Cullen. “We encourage all Parade groups to respect the spirit of celebration and inclusion that the Pride Parade represents.”

Pride Toronto begins accepting applications to participate in the 2010 Pride Parade and Dyke March on March 15th. Interested groups are encouraged to visit for information and application forms.

About Pride Toronto:
Pride Toronto is the not-for-profit organization that hosts Pride Week, an annual festival held during the first weekend of July in downtown Toronto. Pride Toronto exists to celebrate the history, courage, diversity and future of Toronto’s LGBTTIQQ2SA* communities and is one of the leading cultural events of its kind in the world with a total economic benefit in 2009 of $136 million.

Toronto’s Pride Week has previously been named Best Festival in Canada by the Canadian Special Events Industry and is recognized as one of only eight Signature Events in the City of Toronto. It is ranked one of the TOP 50 festivals in Ontario by Festivals and Events Ontario (FEO) as well as one of the 18 Marquee Festivals of Distinction in Canada. With attendance of over 1,2 million, it is the third largest Pride celebration in the world and the largest in North America.

Updated by Xtra Staff.