Toronto
3 min

Is this the way to perdition?

“To date, the phrase ‘Israeli apartheid’ has not been found to violate either the Criminal Code or the Human Rights Code (Ontario)…. The City staff has therefore concluded that the participation of [Queers Against Israeli Apartheid] QuAIA in the Pride parade based solely on the phrase ‘Israeli apartheid’ does not violate the City’s anti-discrimination policy. The City also cannot therefore conclude that the use of the term on signs or banners to identify QuAIA constitutes the promotion of hatred or seeks to incite discrimination contrary to the Code.”

With those few lines in an April 2 report to the City of Toronto’s executive committee, city manager Joseph Pennachetti issued a long-overdue vindication, clearing the way for the participation of a group of gay rights activists in their own Pride parade. That there is nothing in Canadian jurisprudence to suggest that criticism of foreign governments, or indeed, the use of the term “Israeli apartheid,” is illegal, discriminatory or hateful, should not be a surprise to anyone. The notion that QuAIA is dangerous is nothing more than a rhetorical instrument, an inelegant but effective piece of propaganda, the kind of truthiness that earns traction only when repeated often enough to the fearful. It’s a point evidenced perhaps best by the fact that those who were offended enough by QuAIA’s message to campaign to make pariahs of its members have not so far sought surcease from the criminal justice system or the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

There’s just nothing to it.

I can’t say I wasn’t a bit surprised on April 15 when QuAIA announced that it would not enter a contingent in the 2011 parade. From the beginning, its members have stubbornly stood their ground, so this choice is a bit out of character. And, although I’m somewhat glad for the news, I can’t say I wasn’t a bit disappointed either. Despite Pennachetti’s late but welcome confirmation of the obvious, it seemed as though QuAIA’s early goodnight somehow validated the efforts of those who worked, by hook and crook, to create monsters where there are none. It’s a choice that also reinforces the perception that Pride Toronto can be convinced to throw members of its own community under the wheels of political bureaucracy when its purse strings are tugged.

So many gay people, most with no personal stake in the politics of the Middle East, dedicated their time and exposed themselves to vitriol in reaction to an assault on free expression and community autonomy. And just as the story was reaching a happy dénouement, QuAIA members seemed to pack it in, throw up their hands in resignation, stomp off in a bit of a huff — frustrated, defeated — leaving the rest of us un-QuAIA types gaping at one another, jilted, unsure of what had just happened. “If they were going to do that,” I asked myself, “why didn’t they just do it last March?”

“There’s give and take in communities,” QuAIA spokesperson Elle Flanders told Xtra of the decision to withdraw. “We think that the community has been generous to us, and it’s time for us to be generous in return. When you’re facing rightwing, homophobic governments, you’ve got to band together.”

Flanders is right. Taking from Ford and his ilk the stick with which they have been happily beating Toronto’s gay community will cast reality in relief. QuAIA’s is a move with merit. It is the high road. It is a good tactical and moral choice. The gay community successfully protected its prerogative for free expression when QuAIA participated — legitimately — in the 2010 parade. And QuAIA members chose, were not forced, to hold back for 2011. They saved themselves an entry fee, a course this newspaper chose some years ago.

But perhaps the greatest legacy of the whole story — and it isn’t over yet — will be that Pride Toronto, a hugely influential and wealthy community organization that had over the years so badly alienated its constituents and lost its way, has embarked on a promising, healing process of cleansing, renewal and reconnection with its communities.

And we might need some very strong communities over the next little while.