As Toronto’s Pride parade steamrolled down Yonge St on July 3, a group of queer activists dropped a 40-foot banner off the roof of the Wellesley subway station.
The group, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA), voluntarily withdrew from the parade earlier this year after city councillors threatened to yank Pride Toronto’s funding.
The move caps a two-year saga in which some councillors claimed that QuAIA breached the city’s anti-discrimination policy, rendering Pride Toronto (PT) ineligible for city funding. A report from the city manager’s office eventually exonerated QuAIA and Pride Toronto.
Tim McCaskell, one of the organizers of QuAIA, compared the banner drop to tactics used in early AIDS activism.
He said that the banner represents a commitment to convey QuAIA’s messages without jeopardizing PT, which lost $450,000 last year and could face bankruptcy if the city withholds its nearly $125,000 grant in 2011.
“In the parade, we got a simple message across. This is a little more nuanced,” McCaskell says.
The banner does not use the phrase Israeli apartheid, but it calls for gays to boycott Israeli tourism.
Lauren Prangg, who was standing on Wellesley St when the banner was unfurled, says she feels that QuAIA should have marched in the parade but that the banner was a good alternative.
“QuAIA has done exactly what they said they would do, by not participating, and letting the parade go on,” she says.
But that doesn’t sit well with Joanne Cohen, a former member of the Canadian Jewish Congress, who was also on hand.
It’s clear that QuAIA can’t be “civil,” Cohen says, and compared the action to that of the Black Bloc during last summer’s G20 summit in Toronto.
“That’s city property. That’s TTC property. They did not get consent to do that,” she says.
That’s not exactly true, says a subway manager Xtra spoke to at Wellesley Station. The station’s roof houses an outdoor tennis court, which is owned by the neighbouring condo building, according to the TTC employee, named Janet.
PT staffer Ryan Lester and board member Roy Mitchell were quick to admit that the banner drop was a “complete surprise” to them.
“The organization — staff and volunteers — were not aware of the banner,” says Lester.
PT has no control over the TTC’s subway stations, and the organization didn’t “activate any infrastructure inside TTC property,” Lester adds.
Mitchell says that even though Wellesley Station is geographically close to the parade, Pride Toronto doesn’t control the station.
“They could have put this on the Lakeshore for all we know,” he says.