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COPE candidate seeks city-funded community centre

Vancouver could learn from Toronto’s 519 centre, says Imtiaz Popat

COPE parks board candidate Imtiaz Popat objected to the use of city staff to evict people from Oppenheimer Park in October. Credit: Lydia Nagai

COPE parks board candidate Imtiaz Popat says Vancouver should be using Toronto’s 519 Church Street Community Centre as a model for offering services and programming to the queer community.

Popat says the community centre in the heart of Toronto’s gay village promotes diversity, offers services to a multitude of communities and is funded by taxpayers. He questions why Vancouver does not have a similarly funded destination for its LGBT population. “We’re taxpayers,” he tells Xtra. “Why don’t community centres have city services for us?”

While Vancouver City Council last year approved $7 million in community amenity contributions to fund the development of a new queer community centre, BC’s queer resource centre Qmunity will still be responsible for the centre’s ongoing operating costs once it’s built.

According to The 519’s website, the “City of Toronto owns the building and provides core funding for maintenance, management and administration.” The city also partially funds some of the centre’s programs, along with contributions from several other organizations, foundations and private donors.

If elected, Popat wants to make the city’s parks safer for everyone. He decries the use of city staff to evict people from Oppenheimer Park last month, calling the action punitive. “We need to deal with housing, not people camping in parks,” he says.

He also expresses concern for the safety of queer people cruising in parks. “We’re targets,” he says, noting that cruising in parks can be risky but that the trails should still be protected by city staff who work to keep others safe in parks.

A former Green Party parks board candidate, Popat says COPE is a natural fit for him because of its commitment to diversity and inclusion. He highlights the fact that COPE has caucuses for dialogue on queer and trans issues.

A longtime media producer in the Lower Mainland, Popat has hosted The Rational on Vancouver Co-op Radio and Access TV on Shaw Cable 4 and produced films, including the documentary Stolen Memories, about the internment of Japanese-Canadians in BC during the Second World War.

He has also worked at Gallery Gachet and has advocated for new LGBT Canadians through his work with the Rainbow Refugee Committee and the Immigrant Services Society of BC. He supports the idea of Vancouver being part of the sanctuary city movement, in which cities designate themselves as sanctuaries for undocumented migrants.