4 min

Pride doesn’t qualify for city money, says councillor

Funding to be debated at council June 6

Councillor James Pasternak. Credit:

Even though Toronto’s economic development committee approved funding for Pride Toronto (PT), one city councillor still says he wants to hold back funding to ensure the group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) does not march in the parade.

Councillor James Pasternak says he plans to submit a motion at the next council meeting, on June 6, in an effort to withhold Pride’s $123,807 cultural grant until after the festival. About $300,000 worth of in-kind city services, including policing and garbage clean-up, would not be affected, Pasternak says.

After the May 22 meeting of the economic development committee, which endorsed more than $6 million in grants to Toronto’s 10 major arts organizations, Councillor Josh Colle, who did not reply to Xtra’s request for comment, told reporters he will support Pasternak’s motion, saying the city should not fund Pride if QuAIA is permitted to march.

The comments have put PT on alert with renewed fears that funding is once again at risk.

PT executive director Kevin Beaulieu says board members are meeting with all city councillors to impress upon them the importance of the Pride festival. “Pride has been ruled by the city manager to be in compliance with the city’s anti-discrimination policy,” he says.

Pasternak, who met with PT co-chair Luka Amona and board member Evan Dean to discuss QuAIA on May 24, says both sides “agreed to disagree.”

“The bottom line is QuAIA makes the parade ineligible for funding,” Pasternak says. “We don’t fund demonstrations and we don’t fund groups that don’t comply with our anti-discrimination policy. The QuAIA messaging is extremely offensive. It is preposterous in historical fact.

“I’m surprised Pride would get itself involved in this mess,” he adds. “The last thing you want to do is bring Middle East politics into a cultural celebration.”

In 2010, council passed a motion requiring that groups participating in any Toronto festival comply with the city’s anti-discrimination policy. Last year, city manager Joe Pennachetti released a report that stated QuAIA’s participation in the parade did not violate the city’s anti-discrimination policy.

But Pasternak says the report is not valid because he tacked on an amendment before the vote. As a result, he says, council voted to reject the report and sent it back to be “tightened up to say ‘Israeli apartheid’ is discriminatory and offensive terminology.”

“The city manager brought back a report that had an opinion, but by a 36-to-1 vote, council rejected that opinion, and here we are,” he says. “My amendment clearly makes a statement that we do not agree . . . Council has spoken. We have declared the city manager’s opinion null and void.”

Councillor Shelley Carroll says Pasternak is incorrect. She says the city manager was clear and his opinion “laid this issue to rest.”

“Council has already voted to adopt the report,” she says. “Even if procedurally this were possible, I would not be supporting that motion. The city manager went through every bit of process that we asked him to undertake for us. It was not a decision he took lightly. He received a lot of professional opinion. It’s adopted.”

Carroll also questions Pasternak’s motives, saying he is just grandstanding for his constituents.

“I have to ask myself, Is he starting a little fire out there in his community so he can appear to be the person that put it out? Is that wise?” she asks.

“I’m not making light of the people that feel hurt by the terminology [Israeli apartheid], but none of these people that I’m told are concerned showed up to the economic development committee to say they don’t support the city manager’s opinion and they’re outraged. No one came.”

Councillor Gord Perks says Pride funding is likely safe.

“Councillor Pasternak is bound and determined to continue fighting on this, so maybe he’s looking for a way,” he says. “This went through uncontested at executive committee. Councillor Pasternak can try to make some kind of an amendment, but I can’t believe anything that puts Pride’s funding in jeopardy would happen. I think this is done.”

Margaret Dougherty, a City of Toronto senior communications officer, also confirmed that the 2011 city manager’s report was adopted with an amendment to take another look and report back. The updated report is due back to executive committee on June 12. She did not know if any changes have been made.

Pasternak wants council to go one step further and effectively ban the phrase “Israeli apartheid” for all beneficiaries of city funds.

QuAIA has been at the centre of controversy for more than two years. The Community Advisory Panel (CAP), which was created as a result of the dispute, recommended that Pride set up an arms-length arbitration panel to resolve any complaints. The decision by the dispute resolution committee will be final.

Regardless, Pasternak says, funding should be deferred until after the festival. “I’m urging [Pride], don’t even let it get to the dispute panel. I suggest they reject QuAIA outright.”

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam says Pasternak is wrong in his interpretation. The report stands, she says, and suggests he explore “proper legal channels,” such as the Ontario Human Rights Commission, if he wants to challenge its findings and the phrase ‘Israeli apartheid.’

“It’s only Pride Toronto. Out of all the organizations that sign the anti-discrimination policy to receive city funding, it’s only Pride Toronto that is always under attack,” she says. “It’s grossly unfair to the LGBT community to have to work through extra hurdles and barriers, and I’m starting to view it as somewhat discriminatory.”

QuAIA spokesperson Tony Souza says the group has not yet submitted an application to march. The deadline to apply is June 1, at which point PT will make the full list available to the public. 

Vindicated by the city manager’s report, QuAIA decided to bow out of the parade in 2011.

“We intend to put our application in to march,” he says. “We’ve gone through this whole hullabaloo for two years, and it’s the same story. [Opposing councillors] don’t care what the city manager says.

“We feel we have a right to march like anyone else has. Pride, after all, is a political event, and it has always been a political event.”