Toronto City Hall’s rainbow flag-raising ceremony was cancelled this morning after thousands of city workers walked off the job.
“As a result of the labour disruption in Toronto it is not possible to hold this event today,” reads a statement posted on Toronto Pride’s website early this morning.
Nearly 24,000 Toronto municipal workers hit the picket lines just after midnight on Jun 22, cancelling city-run services such as city-run daycares, recreation centres, the ferry service, summer camps and — yuck — garbage pickup.
As Pride supporters arrived to an eventless Nathan Phillips Square this morning it was clear City Hall’s official Pride proclamation ceremony was cancelled too.
Michelle Blais and Lindsay Cahill, two Brock University students from Niagara Falls, were two supporters who showed at Nathan Phillips Square this morning.
“There were other people there, but no one told us it was cancelled,” says Blais, who arrived at City Hall one hour before the scheduled start time.
The girls, both celebrating Toronto Pride for the first time, waited around “for a long time” until a “lady rushed over and told us the ceremony was being held at The 519.”
Each year Toronto’s 519 Community Centre on Church St — or what locals call The 519 — hosts its own Pride flag unveiling ceremony on the Monday of Pride Week. It kicks off with the unrolling of a giant rainbow flag from the community centre’s roof. The event traditionally falls on the same day as City Hall’s annual ceremony. It, unlike City Hall, is not affected by the strike.
Blais and Cahill missed this event too. “We’re from Niagara,” says Blais. “We had no idea what people meant when they said they were going to The 519.”
Activist and writer John Sinopoli, who managed to make it to The 519’s ceremony, isn’t impressed with the decision to cancel the city’s flag-raising ceremony. “There’s 52 weeks, 365 days in a year. The fact they chose to pick a strike date before Pride really irks me,” says Sinopoli. “The union and Mayor David Miller owe the queer community an epic apology.”
Two locals from the Canada Union of Public Employees (CUPE), representing 6,200 outside workers and 18,000 inside workers, are involved in the strike. The last time city employees went on strike was in 2002, also around Pride week. It lasted for two weeks, forcing mounds of uncollected garbage to rot in the hot summer sun.
“CUPE has put a monkey wrench on everything,” says a disappointed Keith Smith, a 61-year-old retiree who showed up to the cancelled ceremony at Nathan Phillips Square. He missed the flag unveiling at The 519 by a mere 10 minutes. “I videotape the flag-raising ceremony each year,” says Smith, sighing. “I guess this year I’ll only have a photograph.”
City Hall’s flag-raising ceremony is celebrated as an official event of Pride Toronto. Tracey Sandilands, executive director of Pride Toronto, regrets the event, one of the “pivotal events of Pride Week,” was cancelled.
“We’re obviously very disappointed,” says Sandilands, who attended The 519’s flag-unveiling ceremony. “The fact that the mayor felt it was necessary to call it off speaks to the seriousness of the situation.”
Contrary to rumours that other Pride events would be cancelled due to the strike, all other events on Pride Toronto’s schedule will go on as planned, says Sandilands.
“It will be business as usual,” she says.
However with garbage collectors picketing and trash piling up Pride revellers should be prepared to cross some interesting smells on the street. “For the festival it will be inconvenient if there is garbage around,” says Sandilands. “We’re hoping that the city and union can sort their differences out before we get to that point.”
Toronto Pride relies on the city to clean up the streets after the Pride Parade, says Sandilands, adding that in case the strike lasts all week, there is a contingency plan in place for post-Pride Parade clean up.
“The city has assured us that they will take care of business one way or another,” she says. All other services at Pride, such as portable toilets and stages, are dependant on private contractors and separate from the city, she adds.