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City council may demand ‘guarantee’ QuAIA is out of Pride parade

A deferral until after Passover is expected

Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti and Mayor Rob Ford. Credit: Marcus McCann

Pride Toronto (PT) is expecting more strings to be attached to city funding, such as a definitive “guarantee” that any “anti-Israeli apartheid” group is not participating in the parade.

But on April 20, Mayor Rob Ford will likely defer the issue because it falls on Passover, says Frances Pritchard, a manager in the city clerk’s office.

If it’s deferred, the city manager’s report will be on the agenda for the May 24 executive committee meeting, and the final vote at city council won’t be until June 14, she says.

Councillor James Pasternak tells Xtra the move would ensure members of the Jewish community have a chance to voice their concerns after Passover. “I recommended to the mayor’s office that, in fairness, it should be moved off to the next executive committee so that all groups can depute.”

The motion to defer will require a majority vote. If adopted, no further discussion on PT will take place April 20.

City manager Joseph Pannachetti’s report, released April 12, states, “City staff have determined that the phrase ‘Israeli apartheid’ in and of itself does not violate the city’s anti-discrimination policy.”

Pasternak has called for a full review of the report and Pannachetti’s decision. He says he also wants the city’s anti-discrimination policy “tightened up” to prevent other “discriminatory” groups from tapping into city funds and services.

“Many of us are appalled by that decision,” he says. “Clearly the city’s anti-discrimination policy is just not working. It needs to be tightened up. You can drive a truck through it.”

Pasternak says he plans to support Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti’s motion that will require PT to guarantee Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) will stay away from the parade. “From how I understand it, [Mammoliti] is looking for a written guarantee that PT not let QuAIA participate.”

Mammoliti did not respond to Xtra’s requests for an interview. It remains unclear if PT is expected to police everyone at the parade.

“This is where it gets tricky,” Pasternak says. “What if [QuAIA] breaks up and start marching with other groups that don’t adhere to the anti-Israel philosophy? Then we have a real problem of enforcement. There is a risk. If they try to come to the parade under another guise, the funding won’t happen.”

“There’s a million people watching this parade. If there are people in the crowd with pro-QuAIA T-shirts and anti-Israel statements on signs who jump the barriers and infiltrate the parade, that is a real problem. We have to rely on parade marshals to enforce the rules. We take that very seriously… Individuals wearing QuAIA T-shirts will not be given a free pass.”

Community Advisory Panel member Michael Went says it’s ridiculous to expect PT to police every single person at the festival to ensure not one person has a sign or T-shirt with “Israeli apartheid” written on it.

On April 15, QuAIA announced it would not march in the parade but would instead host a separate community event during Pride Week. Group member Elle Flanders calls Mammoliti’s demand for a guarantee “ridiculous.”

“As committed human rights activists, we feel our word really does count for something,” she says. “It’s not Pride’s guarantee to make, anyway. How can they promise something about other people?”

This is all “just more evidence of homophobia on council,” Flanders says.

“How much more evidence do we need that this Rob Ford government has a homophobic agenda and has zero interest in culture?” she adds. “As far as we’re concerned, [QuAIA] made our move, and it was checkmate.”

But Pasternak says the current council is already bound by Mammoliti’s motion passed last year, which states that funds will not be transferred until after the parade. “If QuAIA participates then the funds are withheld. We are bound by that, and I support that motion.”

On the chopping block is about $123,807, plus roughly $300,000 in-kind services like policing and cleanup.

PT co-chair Francisco Alvarez says a deferral is a good thing because it buys more time for the community to rally. As for Mammoliti’s request for a guarantee, Alvarez says, PT will “certainly provide a letter for this year.” But, he reminds, PT can only guarantee the officially registered community groups participating in the parade.

“People attending the parade can do whatever they want… Our volunteers are not security guards, so they will not be physically removing people. If we ask people to leave and they don’t, that’s not in our control.”

Recently the Proud of Toronto campaign launched on Facebook and is currently mobilizing support to fight city cuts to all lesbian, gay and trans services, as well as arts and culture funding.

The campaign is actively encouraging people to submit a written deputation or get on a list of speakers to present to the executive committee April 20 at 9:30am. Went says many people have already signed up.

Not surprisingly, Alvarez is one of those on the list to speak. “My message will be that if we don’t get the funding and in-kind services, Pride may go bankrupt. That will be the outcome of trying to censor one individual group.”

Even if in-kind services are cut, PT will still be obligated to provide them, striking a major blow to the budget’s bottom line, he says. “We’ve never had to budget for them before. That would hurt.”

Went is urging the community to be vocal in opposing any move by council to attach strings to PT funding.

“Anything could change at any moment,” Went says. “That’s why we need people to get involved, make a deputation and sign petitions. Contact your councillor, contact the executive committee to ensure LGBT programs and services are protected. All LGBT programs and services are at risk, particularly for 2012.”

City council will soon undergo its Core Services Review, to decide what services are most important. The review begins in May or June. Those services deemed “not core” will likely face big funding cuts.