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City council votes to fund Pride Toronto despite ban on uniformed police

Why does Pride routinely face greater scrutiny than other cultural organizations, asks councillor

Toronto Councillor John Campbell was one of 17 councillors who unsuccessfully voted to defund Pride Toronto. Credit: Nick Lachance/Daily Xtra

An effort to strip Pride Toronto of its city funding has failed.

City councillors defeated a motion brought forward by Councillor John Campbell that would have suspended city money to Pride Toronto unless police could march in uniform. Instead, council agreed to provide the festival with $260,000.

But the hours-long debate on May 26, 2017, exposed a continuing rift on city council between those who want to fund Pride Toronto without conditions and others who believe that council should attach strings to city money.

“This conversation was exactly why we feel we need to take a step back and we really need to reconsider what it means to be LGBTQ in this city and start again,” says Olivia Nuamah, the executive director of Pride Toronto.

Along with Campbell, 16 other councillors voted to suspend city funding to Pride Toronto.

“When you’re giving money, there are conditions attached to the giving of money and there are certain expectations of outcomes and Pride didn’t meet those to me,” Campbell told reporters after the vote.

Kristyn Wong-Tam, Toronto’s only gay city councillor, strongly criticized Campbell for bringing forward his motion in spite of the fact that he’s never attended a Pride parade.

“When you have never spoken up for LGBT rights and equality, if you have never attended the Pride march, and you’ve placed a motion before us today, I have to ask, where is your allyship?” she said.

The latest effort to defund Pride Toronto was a response to the organization’s members voting overwhelmingly in January to ban police officers from marching in the parade in uniform, with firearms and alongside police vehicles.

Police officers will still be able to march in the parade, either individually or as a group, if they follow those conditions.

The decision sparked a backlash from some members of Toronto’s LGBT community and a handful of city politicians, who argued that placing conditions on police participation was exclusionary.

City staff, who recommended to council that the funding be approved, confirmed that Pride Toronto’s policy does not violate the city’s anti-discrimination policy.

Michael Williams, general manager of economic development and culture for the city, said staff gave Pride’s funding proposal an especially close look both because of the media attention and because they were worried about staffing turnover at the organization.

“We were pleasantly surprised by how solid they came together at the last minute,” Williams says.

Debate

During the debate, city councillors fell broadly into three groups with respect to their views on funding Pride Toronto. Those who voted to strip Pride Toronto’s funding believed that the festival should be defunded for excluding uniformed police.

But some councillors who were uncomfortable with Pride Toronto’s decision, including Mayor John Tory, still voted to maintain funding because Pride Toronto is in an ongoing dialogue with the Toronto Police Service about the relationship between the two organizations.

Tory said that both Nuamah and Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders told him personally that defunding Pride Toronto would hurt those efforts.

“These very same groups are working together now to resolve some unresolved issues,” Tory said.

A final group of councillors was much more sympathetic to the concerns raised by Black Lives Matter Toronto during its protest at last year’s Pride parade.

“If you let everybody in without addressing power and privilege, you actually are going to send some of the people out,” said Councillor Neethan Shan.

“You listen to black youth, you listen to trans youth and you realize that journey to inclusion is a much longer walk,” said Councillor Joe Cressy. “And you realize we’re not there yet.”

Scrutiny

The effort to defund Pride Toronto was reminiscent of previous attempts by some city councillors to take away funding from 2010 to 2014. During that time, many city politicians threatened Pride Toronto with defunding if Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) was allowed to continue to march.

One of the persistent questions councillors raised today about Campbell’s motion was why Pride Toronto continues to face greater scrutiny than other cultural organizations.

“I think that every year that I have been here, and that’s a very long number of years, we’ve had this debate, over and over and over again,” said Councillor Pam McConnell. “I would like for one year for us to be able to take this grant and just give it to them.”

“Somehow Pride is always held to a completely different standard than every single organization that we fund in this city,” Cressy said.