Mayor Rob Ford wasted no time moving to defer any discussion on Pride Toronto (PT) funding until the next executive committee in May, to allow Jewish community members a chance to argue against investing city funds into the festival.
“Many people who want to be here can’t be here because of this religious holiday [Passover],” Ford told the executive committee April 20, before moving the item to May 24. No debate was allowed once the motion passed.
One question of clarification came from Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti.
He wants PT to provide “a letter that guarantees” Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) will not participate in any Pride events, not just the parade. PT co-chair Francisco Alvarez has already told Xtra it’s unreasonable to expect volunteers to police every person out of millions at every event.
On April 12, city manager Joseph Pannachetti released his report stating, “City staff have determined that the phrase ‘Israeli apartheid’ in and of itself does not violate the city’s anti-discrimination policy.” Then, on April 15, QuAIA announced it would not march in the parade but would instead host a separate community event during Pride Week. So why the need for a guarantee?
Mammoliti said he’s simply not buying it. Xtra cornered him later in the afternoon, but he refused comment.
Although, just hours before the meeting, he appeared on AM640 radio in a debate with QuAIA’s Elle Flanders. Once again, Flanders slammed Mammoliti and the mayor for “bringing a rightwing agenda to city hall.”
“[Last year] the message was clear to us that they wouldn’t participate, then at the 11th hour we found out that they would. Of course we felt misled,” he said. “[This year] they say they won’t participate in the parade, but they haven’t said they won’t participate in any of the Pride venues for Pride Week.”
Anna Willats, a queer activist at the meeting, shakes her head. She says Mammoliti’s demand “smacks of homophobia,” adding, “the community should be very concerned of Councillor Mammoliti’s deliberate targeting of Pride Toronto, and by extension the queer community.”
“It seems that no matter what Pride Toronto does to try and meet the demands of this city, it’s never enough,” she tells Xtra after the meeting. “No matter what happens, there will be some excuse to withhold Pride Toronto’s funding.”
Willats is strongly encouraging people to show support for Pride and free speech on May 24. She says council is laying the groundwork for an Orwellian decree, with the “speech police scurrying around the entire week of the festival looking for people with ‘Israeli apartheid’ on T-shirts.”
“It’s not enforceable,” she says. “And it probably opens the city up to some kind of lawsuit that the city is infringing on speech that has been determined to not be discriminatory by this very council. What are they going to do, kick people out?”
Last year, Mammoliti’s motion passed stating that grant funds will not be transferred until after the parade. This year is no different. He told the executive committee he wants the city to “hold all cheques” until after the parade.
Council is trying to withhold about $123,807, plus roughly $300,000 in-kind services like policing and cleanup.
When Xtra tried to ask Rob Ford about the issue, he dashed off through the security doors with director of policy Mark Towhey, who kept repeating, “Talk to Adrienne [Batra, the mayor’s press secretary]. Talk to Adrienne.”
But Councillor Doug Ford did take a few minutes to talk. He tells Xtra he took his family to the Pride parade last year and “had a good time.”
“I will support [Mammoliti’s motion]. We can’t let one group spew hate speech. That’s unacceptable,” he says. “We don’t want them there. It’s not just the parade. It’s the whole week.”
Councillor Ford laughs at the idea that Mammoliti and Mayor Ford could be showing homophobic colours. He says, “I know Rob. He is the last guy to be homophobic. Do you know how many gay people worked on our campaign? Endless… He laughs it off.”
He dismisses the accusations as a “bunch of leftwing pinkos all making up rumours.”
But Councillor Josh Matlow considers the matter closed. He is taking QuAIA at its word. “Pride Toronto has fulfilled what council expected.”
Matlow notes that Bernie Farber from the Canadian Jewish Congress is also satisfied.
“We need to celebrate Pride this year,” he says. “This is a wonderful festival, not just for the LGBT community, but the whole city, and it brings in millions of dollars to Toronto. I think we all need to get on board. I look forward to marching at Pride this year and celebrating into the night with friends.”
Still, Councillor Michael Thompson says he thinks all politics of any kind should be kept out of the parade. “[Politics] are not germane to Pride. Pride brings a lot of money to the city. As chair of economic development, of course, I support that.” He doesn’t support the city manager’s report.
At first he denied the notion, but even Thompson admits, after looking at Mayor Ford’s voting record and past statements, a case can be made for homophobia.
Willats reminds that without the city funding, PT will almost definitely run another deficit, which means the loss of World Pride 2014, and it’s sure to be an embarrassment on the international stage. “It is also incredibly stupid. It not only hurts the queer and trans community in Toronto, it ruins our reputation around the world as an LGBT-positive tourist destination.”
“[Stripping funding] will hurt tourism, hotels, restaurants and taxis. Threatening the parade hurts businesses in the pocketbook. This makes no sense economically, socially or practically.”
In 2009 PT announced the results of a study that found Pride Week brings in more than $136 million in economic revenue, including around $40 million spent by local residents, the equivalent of more than 600 year-round full-time jobs in Toronto, and a contribution of $29.7 million to Toronto’s GDP.
“There are those on council who would just like to see the Pride festival disappear,” Willats says. “That’s all you can conclude from this.”