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Pride Society threatens to kick paper out of parade

Coolen objects to Georgia Straight's 'Pride Incorporated'

Years of participating in the Pride parade came to an end two weeks ago when The Georgia Straight received an ultimatum from one of the Vancouver Pride Society’s (VPS) parade directors: explain your cover story or you will “not be allowed in the parade.”

The cover story in question, called “Pride Incorporated,” explored the alleged corporatization of Pride and briefly mentioned the Straight’s initial exclusion from the parade.

In an Aug 2 blog follow-up to his story, Straight editor Charlie Smith writes that VPS treasurer and parade director Ken Coolen called the paper to demand an immediate explanation for alleged inaccuracies in the story, saying the publisher “had two hours to call and explain this week’s cover story.”

“If the publisher didn’t call,” Coolen allegedly said, “the Straight would not be allowed in the parade.”

Publisher Dan McLeod did not return Coolen’s call. Instead, the Straight decided not to participate in the parade “for the first time in years,” says Smith on his blog.

When asked about the alleged ultimatum, Coolen declined to comment and referred the matter to VPS president John Boychuk.

Boychuk admits that “a heat-of-the-moment comment was made by Ken,” but says the “very passionate” parade director made the “unfortunate comment” in order to get a quick response.

“He realized it was unfair, and when I had my conversation with Charlie Smith, I said that was something that was a knee-jerk reaction,” says Boychuk, adding he apologized for “any misconception” regarding the Straight’s float entry which “has not and will not be cancelled.”

“[Smith] said to me, “Doesn’t matter, we’re already pulling the plug,” Boychuk says.

When asked Aug 3 to elaborate on the inaccuracies Coolen allegedly saw in “Pride Incorporated,” Boychuk alluded to a variety of issues, but said he didn’t have a copy in front of him to “go through it point by point.”

A week later, when asked again about the alleged inaccuracies, he says the VPS is “completely disappointed” in the story’s handling of the Straight’s initial exclusion from the parade.

The story mentions this year’s cap on parade entries, then says the VPS informed the paper it “would not be allowed in the parade.” It goes on to note that the Straight was put on a “standby list” along with 13 other applicants, and was later offered a spot in the parade —two days after Smith interviewed Boychuk for the story.

“Boychuk denied that the earlier decision was linked to the Straight not being a sponsor,” Smith writes.

The story does not mention that that the Straight was placed on the standby list after it missed the deadline to register for the parade. Nor does it acknowledge that the VPS offered the paper a spot on the waiting list but was declined, says Boychuk.

“We’re being used as a scapegoat because they didn’t want to play by the rules that were put on us from the City of Vancouver,” he alleges.

The deadline for submitting parade entry applications was Jun 30, which was then extended to Jul 14, Boychuk explains. “It wasn’t us who set the limitations. It was the City of Vancouver. We got as much information out as we could to tell people, “Get your applications in early.’

“We called every single entry from the last year and the year before, back in the beginning of June, including the Georgia Straight,” Boychuk continues.

McLeod says he never heard of any deadlines. “We were never told, that I know of, that there were any deadlines. But you would think when we’d been participating so many years there’d be some kind of grandfathering of people that have been there and been a fixture over the years,” he says.

Asked about Boychuk’s allegation that the Straight refused to go on the waiting list, McLeod refers the question to his promotions and sponsorships manager Navdeep Chhina.

“I don’t have any information to give to you at this time,” Chhina says, referring the question back to McLeod or to Smith.

Smith declined to be interviewed for this story, saying his blog “speaks for itself.”

Boychuk claims tension first surfaced between the VPS and the Straight in May when, he says, the Straight asked to be the exclusive community print media sponsor of Pride.

“Some of the accusations associated with the article is that we ourselves are getting overly corporate and our demands are becoming too corporate. And one of the reasons possibly that they were excluded was because of the fact that we wouldn’t bring them on as a sponsor, when in turn they are the ones who said to us: ‘Unless we are exclusive, we will not deal with you,'” Boychuk alleges.

“I have not talked to anybody at Pride regarding sponsorship,” says Chhina, again referring the question back to Smith and McLeod.

VPS sponsorship coordinator Caryl Dolinko corroborates Boychuk’s account, claiming the Straight told her: “It’s either you choose us and give us exclusivity or we don’t want anything to do with you.”

Boychuk says the VPS feels it’s being penalized. “At the end of the day, if we have concerns, just like any concerned citizen, we should be able to ask those questions and not be penalized,” he says.

But the Straight’s first gay columnist, Kevin Dale McKeown, says it’s the Straight that’s being penalized, not the Pride Society.

“My issue is their attempt to exclude a community media from a community event because they don’t like what the media is saying about them,” he says.

“I think it’s a failure on the part of the organization, or at least one individual in the organization, to understand the relationship between a community and its media, and the freedom that the media has to reflect conversations that are going on in the community,” he continues.

“I don’t think they [the VPS] were trying to control what the Georgia Straight said, so much as they were trying to punish them for saying things that the Society didn’t want to have [said] in public at this time,” McKeown alleges. “And I think that’s very inappropriate.”