6 min

Dispute panel says QuAIA can march in Pride parade

Final decision in B'nai Brith Canada complaint

A member of Kulanu waves a rainbow flag at the official kickoff of Pride Week, June 25 at Toronto City Hall. Credit: Andrea Houston

Friday, June 29 — The dispute resolution panel has decided that Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) can take part in the Pride parade on July 1.

Pride Toronto issued a statement noting that the arm’s-length group will receive a permit to participate. 

“Pride Toronto is aware of the politically and emotionally sensitive nature of this issue for all parties involved. In line with the ruling of the Dispute Resolution Panel, and Pride Toronto’s stated commitment to abide by the outcome of the process, the Board of Directors will respect the DRP’s decision and will authorize a permit for QuAIA to march in this year’s Pride parade,” said Luka Amona, Pride Toronto Board co-chair, in the statement.

In the video below, Pride Toronto executive director Kevin Beaulieu responds to the panel’s decision.

Beaulieu says the decision is helpful because it allows Pride to move forward with the 2012 festival.

“I am looking forward to celebrating Pride,” he says. “Pride has always had politics involved with it, and this is no exception. The controversy has not always been helpful. Our focus has always been on providing an excellent festival, parade and marches for our communities.”

The complaint process remains open, he says, and there may be further complaints coming. “But I can’t speak to the outcome of what those could be.”

Beaulieu says there’s no guarantee QuAIA won’t face more complaints next year. “This is still a very young process and we are still working through it. Will it be precedent-setting? Hard to say at this point. The finality of the decision means there is no appeal.

“We now have clarity from the panel. It’s been a very difficult issue for a lot of people and we recognize that. Now we have clarity and direction moving forward.”

After the June 27 hearing, former QuAIA member Elle Flanders, who was watching the hearing as an observer, says the dispute panel should not even “entertain complaints from people outside the community.”    

“QuAIA came to the dispute table in good faith and wanted to be a part of the community process,” she says. “This complaint came from [B’nai Brith Canada] an organization with questionable, Zionist and homophobic ties that is far outside our community.”

Tuesday, June 26 — The first hearing of the Pride Toronto dispute resolution process is meeting June 27 to begin arbitration on complaints made against Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA).

Lawyer Doug Elliott, the chair of the dispute resolution process, says the hearing is scheduled for 9:30am at 120 Carlton St, boardroom five on the main floor. It’s open to the public unless someone asks that it be closed, he says.

Lawyer Robert Coates will chair the panel, which includes lawyer Maurice Green, vice-chair at the Ontario Labour Relations Board and principal at Maurice A Green Arbitration-Mediation Services; and lawyer Raja Khouri, a commissioner at the Ontario Human Rights Commission and a co-chair at Human Rights Watch.

There are two complaints before the panel: one from Leon Kushner and another from the League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada, which declined to comment to Xtra.  Two previous complaints have been withdrawn, including one from gay and lesbian Jewish group Kulanu.

B’nai Brith Canada has stated that QuAIA’s “core message is that Israel is an apartheid state . . . such messaging and signs violate the core principles of Pride, as well as offending the rule against presentation of images or messages that present negative stereotypes. Messaging from QuAIA is far from inclusive and violates the required undertaking to respect all members of communities participating in Pride Week events.”

In his complaint, Kushner, who was not available for comment, said QuAIA’s message “discriminates against Jews and Israelis and pro-Israelis and promotes hate against these minorities.” Kushner wants Pride Toronto to ban QuAIA from participating in the Pride parade.

A third complaint was filed by Paul Berner later than the others, Elliott says, noting that no decision has been made about whether the complaint will be heard by the panel.

Berner, who could not be reached for comment, complains that QuAIA does not “fit with the mission” of Pride Toronto. “I don’t think QuAIA should be in the Pride parade. They are entitled to their opinion, and although I do not agree with them, I do not think the Pride parade is a forum for this type of demonstration.”

Xtra has not yet received copies of the complaints from B’nai Brith Canada or Berner but will post the documents as soon as they become available.

QuAIA spokesperson Corvin Russell would not offer any comment because the group is participating in the dispute-resolution process.

In a statement released June 26, Queer Ontario chair Nick Mulé says the process is flawed and should be immediately abolished. Mulé says it gives Pride Toronto another mechanism to censor messaging from activist groups in the parade.

“This is a group of lawyers who were appointed, not elected by the community, coming together to decide for the community who will be in the parade and who can’t be,” he says. “We find that highly problematic.”

Last year, Queer Ontario also rejected, and did not participate in, the series of community meetings — the community advisory panel — that recommended the dispute-resolution process.

Mulé says the Pride board should be protecting community groups like QuAIA from outside attacks, not abandoning them to the judgment of an arm’s-length arbitration panel. Complaints should instead be directed to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

“What is the legal mandate of this? How will this affect QuAIA, supporters of QuAIA and supporters of free speech?” he asks. “What’s frightening about this is this sets a dangerous precedent because we are going down a slippery path of potential censorship and exclusion again.”

Elliott says Pride is not unique in developing an arm’s-length process to settle complaints. Many organizations use similar methods.

“With all due respect, I think that Queer Ontario is missing the point,” he says. “The point of this process is not to determine if QuAIA is allowed to march or not. The point is to determine if someone has broken the rules that apply to the parade.”

The panel will make that decision based on the city’s anti-discrimination policy, the rules governing Pride Toronto and evidence submitted by both sides.

A report by the city manager released last year confirmed that the phrase “Israeli apartheid” – and by extension QuAIA’s participation in Pride celebrations – does not violate the city’s anti-discrimination policy, which all beneficiaries of city funds must agree to. Elliott says the city manager’s report is a document that may be submitted as evidence.

He wouldn’t speculate how the ruling will be implemented or enforced.

“QuAIA and Pride Toronto will both be bound by the outcome of this decision because it’s governed by the Arbitration Act of Ontario,” he says. “The parties — QuAIA as a parade applicant and Pride Toronto, that set up the arbitration system – have agreed to be bound by the process.”

Those who have made complaints have also agreed to the process, he says. “They are also bound legally by the outcome.”

If the panel determines QuAIA’s messaging violates the policy, Mulé points out that any attempt to physically remove parade participants could be seen as an attack and could put people in danger.

“Can police get involved when no actual law has been broken?” he asks. “Will people be told they can’t display their messages? Pride Toronto may be making matters worse than they realize . . . If a decision comes down that goes against QuAIA, [Pride Toronto] could be facing the wrath of the community.”

Elliott says that Queer Ontario should give the process a chance.

“Their attacks on the objectivity of the panel are totally without foundation,” he says. “A lot of their concerns are based on speculation on how the process might work. It hasn’t been given a chance to work yet. Fair criticism would be based on how it actually performed as opposed to speculation on how it might perform.”

In the event of a ruling against QuAIA, and if the group decides to ignore the decision by participating in the parade anyway, “then it will be up to someone else to enforce the arbitrators ruling,” Elliott says.

The decision can be enforced by a court order, he says. That court order can be attained by one of the participants, such as Pride Toronto or one of the complainants.

“If the ruling is that QuAIA is allowed to march in the parade and that their message did not offend the city’s anti-discrimination policy, in those circumstances QuAIA might want to have that converted into a court order for their own protection,” he says. On the flip side, if the panel rules that QuAIA is in violation of the rules, and therefore not allowed to participate in the parade, then a complainant may want to have it converted into a court order to enforce it against QuAIA.

“Most often it doesn’t get turned into a court order because people participating in the system respect the outcome of arbitration,” Elliott says.

  Queer Ontario – DRP Statement 2012 – Final Kushner complaint about QuAIA