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Queers Against Israeli Apartheid disbands after seven years

Group became catalyst for free speech debates at Toronto Pride

QuAIA ran into trouble during the 2011 dyke march. 

The oft-controversial group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) has announced that it is disbanding after seven years of operation.

Group member Tim McCaskell, in a press release posted on its website Feb 26, said that it wasn’t an easy decision to make. “But we decided that retiring QuAIA allows us all to develop new strategies for supporting the Palestine solidarity movement and to make new links across oppressions in our communities.”

According to the statement, several of the original group members are now working with other organizations, stretching their own resources thin.

McCaskell could not be reached for comment by deadline. Elle Flanders, QuAIA’s former spokesperson, declined to comment before Daily Xtra had reached McCaskell.

During its seven years in operation, QuAIA became the catalyst for several fraught debates over free speech at the annual Toronto Pride parade, most recently during the 2014 municipal election.

Toronto Mayor John Tory maintained during his election campaign that he would vote to defund Pride if QuAIA continued to march. The mayor had said for many years that the phrase “Israeli apartheid” has no place at city events.

“I think a lot of people who support Pride as I do, and understand its fundamental importance to the community and support public funding for it, would also support what I said,” Tory said at the time.

However, the issue has yet to be raised since Tory took the mayoral office.

Mathieu Chantelois, the new executive director of Pride, also told both Daily Xtra and Now Magazine earlier this year that he was confident of the mayor’s continuing support of the parade.

After forming in 2008, QuAIA was effectively barred from the 2010 Pride parade after the Pride board voted to ban the phrase “Israeli apartheid.” However, the decision was later reversed following outcry from Toronto’s LGBT community.

For the next three years, the debate over QuAIA would continue. The group twice faced Pride Toronto’s internal dispute resolution panel, which would rule that they could march. As well, both the city manager and city solicitor have found separately that the phrase “Israeli apartheid” did not violate the city’s anti-discrimination policy or any other applicable laws.

***Updated Feb 28, 2015, 12 pm

Shrinking membership and resources led to the demise of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA), according to group member Tim McCaskell.

“At a certain point we thought, this is becoming unsustainable,” he told Daily Xtra on Feb 27. “So we figured it was better to say ok, we’re stepping out.” He noted that a majority of group members decided to disband QuAIA, though some wanted to continue on.

Though he says the possibility of another showdown with city council over the group’s participation in the Pride parade wasn’t the reason the group broke up, McCaskell did say that he felt the outcome would be the same.

“Do we take on this battle once more when we know the result and everyone knows the result?” McCaskell asked. “What’s the point, really? I think we’ve made our point that political groups have a clear place in Pride and that Palestine is an issue for our community and it will continue to be.”

In addition to twice facing Pride Toronto’s internal dispute resolution panel and being vetted by the city manager and city solicitor’s office, they also had an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruling on their side. In September 2014, the tribunal found that QuAIA marching in the Pride parade does not discriminate against those who may take issue with the political views of the group.

Not everyone is sad to see them go. Justine Apple, the executive director of Kulanu Toronto, sent Daily Xtra a statement explaining that her group is not surprised that QuAIA disbanded.

We have always maintained that there is no room in the Pride Parade for QuAIA’s discriminatory messages. The Pride Parade is about openness and inclusivity, not about divisive, inflammatory messaging that only serves to create a hostile and toxic environment.”

McCaskell is confident that another group will emerge that will focus on queer solidarity with Palestine.

“We figured that let a new crew figure out what the best way to do that in the community is.”

QuAIA’s website will be left up as an archive.