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Pride Toronto, Toronto Police cocktail party turns ugly

BY MARCUS MCCANN – A 4:30pm cocktail appearance by Toronto police chief Bill Blair quickly became a heated standoff on June 29.

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Organizers kept gay and trans people out of the 519 Community Centre auditorium for more than two hours — and periodically ejected people from inside. For the first hour, those who were forbidden from entry stayed outside.

Pride Toronto executive director Tracey Sandilands came out to speak to the crowds, which spilled onto the street. She reminded protesters that the event was organized by Toronto Police — not Pride Toronto — and said that they were dealing with capacity issues.

She was heckled by people on the street. Later, organizers said that Pride Toronto was complicit in the “pinkwashing” of Toronto Police.

519 executive director Maura Lawless also spoke briefly, saying that she hoped to host a discussion between queers and cops soon.

One protester shouted, “But we’re here now!”

Bill Blair arrived in a dark SUV around 5:30 to chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” Police officers forcibly parted the crowd to make way for Blair to enter through the front door, where the protesters were. Two other doors stood empty and unlocked.

After Blair went in, queers occupied the lobby. They chanted and shouted to disrupt the ceremony happening on the second floor.

“No justice. No peace. No homophobic police,” became a popular chant, as did, “No photo ops with the fucking cops.”
The mood of the auditorium was strained. Those who were allowed in the auditorium — and allowed to stay — included city councillor Kyle Rae, lawyer Douglas Elliott, Egale Canada’s Helen Kennedy and former Proud FM staffer Deb Pearce. Attendance inside the auditorium peeked at 75, while a meeting in the same space drew 400 earlier in the month.

Xtra shot video of the protests after videographer Brent Creelman was ejected from the auditorium

BY MATT MILLS  – Meanwhile, as about 75 participants gathered inside, police moved to eject one person who called “Shame!” as the first speaker stepped to the mic. Police and 519 staff also asked some media to leave the room. Some stayed, some went. I stayed.

Word spread that a crowd, gathering on the sidewalk, was being denied entry to the building. Some chose to leave the reception to join the crowd outside. There were about 20 police officers in attendance altogether. The 519’s Matthew Cutler told me that as far as he was concerned, the building was open for regular programs, that only the auditorium was invite-only because it had been rented to police. The south door of the building was open for those accessing other programs. 

There were many familiar faces in the room. Among them were city councillor Kyle Rae, Pride Toronto co-chair Genevieve D’Iorio, city council candidate Ken Chan, lawyer Douglas Elliott, Egale executive director and Pride Toronto board member Helen Kennedy, city council candidate Enza Anderson, Pride Toronto executive director Tracey Sandilands, several 519 staffers and board members, a few media and several more community members. There was also a group of police officers from Montenegro. They clustered togther in the centre of the room looking at times a little bewildered and bored. 

Blair arrived at the front door and pushed through the jeering crowd. He turned briefly and tipped his hat as he entered. The first to greet him was The 519’s Helen Rykens. Rykens told Blair that police needed to let people into the building. “I disagree,” said Blair before he turned away and was escorted up the stairs to the auditorium. 

He worked the room briefly as Rae and Elliott made speeches. As Blair was introduced and took position at the mic, one person in the crowd surged forward to challenge him about the conduct of Toronto Police over the past weekend. “My friends were arrested for no reason,” she called. Blair stood silently at the podium as she was gently escorted from the room by 519 staffers. It was a courageous, gut-wrenching moment.

As Blair took to the mic, one person stepped forward to challenge him.  

Blair said to the room, “So how was your weekend?"

Filmmaker Malcolm Ingram replied, “I was detained."

"Well my weekend was better than yours I guess, my friend,” said Blair to nervous laughter. 

He delivered a canned speech extolling the great relationship the Toronto Police has with Toronto’s gay and lesbian communities.

Meanwhile, 519 staff had convinced police to let people standing on the sidewalk into the lobby of The 519. People chanted as the reception resumed. There were a couple of musical numbers…. backed by a chorus of chants heard easily from the lobby of the building. It was surreal. 

By this time, most had already left the auditorium. At about 6:30 pm, the scheduled end of the event, Blair left the way he came in. Police stood between him and the crowd in the lobby as he left. As soon as he was gone, the crowd dispersed, leaving not so much as a piece of garbage.

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