13 min

Sandilands makes Pride Toronto’s case to international Pride communities

Sorry folks, there’s so much to share, I’ve given up on prose for now. A bunch of things to tell you about…

We’ve packaged all our Pride Toronto censorship controversy coverage into one easy-to-access hub in the hopes of providing the most complete overview. Check it out here.

If you haven’t already, have a look at former Pride Toronto ED Fatima Amarshi’s open letter to Pride Toronto in which she challenges the organization to change course.

A memo from City of Toronto economic development and culture manager Michael Williams to Toronto Mayor David Miller. Is the mayor’s office about to take a position on this? Xtra contacted city manager Rita Davies to ask a bunch of questions. She promptly returned our call but would say only that she has nothing to say until the motion returns to council. That’s scheduled for Monday, June 14.

Pride organizers in Madrid have cancelled the appearance of an Israeli group from that city’s Pride celebration.

In an email obtained by Xtra, Pride Toronto board member and former co-chair Mark Singh encourages recipients to buy Pride Gala tickets.

Text below:

Friends & Colleagues,

As you may be aware, Pride Toronto has taken something of a beating this year with issues that have consumed much of our time. We are now trying to refocus our attention on making our 30th anniversary the best Pride ever. To do that we need your help.

Participation in our parade, market place and Gala & Awards are down as a result of recent negative attention – it’s late in the game and our festival is rapidly approaching. Our only chance to try to recoup some of the losses we are incurring is to bring in commercial Parade entries and to sell tickets for our Gala. I’d like to ask for your help in promoting both of these participation options to your database.

Attached is our Gala & Awards invitation letter and poster which outlines the different ticket and table options available, the prices and the floor plan. Please be so kind as to forward this to your corporate and individual contacts, with a positive endorsement from yourself. Full details on our Award winners, entertainment and ticket purchases can be found on our website: Feel free to contact with any questions.

The Parade application information can also be found on our website at  

Thanking you in advance for your ongoing support.

Yours truly,


Mark Singh, Director
Co-Chair, WorldPride 2014
Pride Toronto

Singh’s life partner is Daniel Chimento, the owner of Dragos Productions, the event company Pride Toronto has hired to run the Pride Gala for the last few years.

In an email obtained by Xtra, Pride Toronto executive director Tracey Sandilands makes the case for censorship to the international community of Pride organizations.

Check it out below.

Pride Toronto ED Tracey Sandilands 

—– Original Message —–
From: Tracey Sandilands <>
Sent: Wednesday, June 09, 2010 3:44 PM
Subject: [Human Rights: 290] Pride Toronto’s political messaging challenge

Hi everyone

I hope you are all well. I apologize in advance for sending you an essay to read, but this is important and I’m expecting some of you may get dragged into it.

I’m sure that most of you have been made aware by now of the political controversy surrounding Pride Toronto at the moment, and I’m writing this so that you have our side of the issue before you get targeted for support as sister Prides. I will also be seeking InterPride Executive support to get this message to all those Prides not on this mailing list. Canadian Prides, in particular, risk being targeted in the same fashion and we are aware that some have already been.

You are of course completely free to make up your own mind on the issue, all we are asking is that you take account of this information before making a decision on where you stand on the issue. At the end is a list of the documents attached.

The issue

For the past two years, our Parade has included a group named Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QUAIA). Their cause is worthy and their participation to date has been peaceful. In response to various questions, Pride Toronto has issued several statements in support of freedom of speech for all participants. In the past year, Pride Toronto has been subjected to extensive lobbying by varied interest groups on all sides of this debate, and has received complaints of discriminatory and exclusionary messaging.  A pro-Israeli lobby group under Martin Gladstone filmed the participation of QUAIA in last year’s parade, and has circulated the video with calls to have them banned.

Now, for a number of reasons we have found it necessary to take the position that the term ‘Israeli Apartheid’ cannot be allowed in the Parade, and I would like to explain to you why this very difficult decision was made.

The various positions

There are several positions that have been taken by members of the public and the community on this issue. These are:

The QUAIA position, which believes Israel’s policies constitute apartheid and must be spoken out against.

The Pro-Israeli position, which believes that the anti-Israeli position is also anti-Semitic, and is frighteningly reminiscent of the years preceding the holocaust. This is largely being driven by Martin Gladstone, the producer of the short film ‘Reclaiming our Pride’.

The Moderate position, which believes that this is not really an LGBT issue and that the use of the word ‘Queer’ in its name is semantics and that the group is hijacking Pride as a publicity stunt.

The Freedom of Expression position, which believes Pride Toronto is applying censorship and that whatever the issue, people have the right to speak out for what they believe (this was Pride Toronto’s position for the past few years)

The role of the City Council

We are fortunate to have extensive support for Pride from the City of Toronto authorities. Pride Toronto is one of the City of Toronto ‘Majors’, eight signature events that receive city funding and support annually. The City’s funding for 2010 is projected to be around $130,000, and its in-kind contribution of policing services, garbage removal and street cleanup is valued at an extra $120,000. In addition, the City provides permits for the closure of 20 city blocks for three days for the street festival, the closure of the main artery Yonge Street for two consecutive afternoons for both the Parade and Dyke March, and the use of various city parks and parking lots for the eight entertainment stages and five beverage gardens that operate during the three day street festival, generating some $0,5m in revenue for the organization.

As a key partner, the City has expressed concern about the presence of the term “Israeli Apartheid” in the Parade. The City has informed us that the message of “Israeli apartheid” may contravene its anti-racism policy in relation to a person’s “place of origin”, and that the inclusion of a group that causes other participants to feel unwelcome contravenes the anti-discrimination policy. As a recipient of City funding and support, Pride Toronto is obliged to respect and follow this policy, a policy that also protects the rights of our communities against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, and to take such considerations into our decision-making process.

Recently, a motion has been tabled at City Council to revoke Pride Toronto’s funding and in-kind support services should this message appear in the Parade (attachment available). This has effectively taken the decision out of the hands of the City staff and placed it in the hands of councillors, many of whom represent ridings full of people pressuring them to vote in favour. This doesn’t bode well for the vote. Quaia has dismissed the idea that the motion will be passed, but they don’t have evidence to support their viewpoint, while we have received numerous letters from councillors telling us that they will be voting in favour (attachment available from Karen Stintz).  The vote was tabled at a city council meeting a few weeks ago and 21 councillors voted to finalize the issue there and then. Thanks to a few councillors working on our behalf, the motion was referred to the Executive Committee meeting on 14 June with 24 votes – a close margin of 3 votes in favour.  This has bought us some time in order to address the issue. The city authorities have also made it clear that the revoking of ‘support’ could well include the permits for the street closures.

The outcome of a ‘yes’ vote on this motion, therefore, would result in the loss of $250,000 in funding and in-kind value plus the use of the festival site, some of the entertainment areas and beverage gardens, and this would mean we would have no Pride festival beyond what could be held on private premises.  And we are four weeks away from the event.

The role of sponsors

Our current sponsors across the board have been supportive of the difficult situation we are facing. They have in several cases requested clarification on how we intend to deal with it, as they are being pressured by their superiors and shareholders.

With regard to potential sponsors, we have experienced reduced participation this year to the tune of around $300,000 with corporates that were on the point of signing sponsorship agreements when this issue became public, and have withheld their support as a result.

Both current and potential sponsors have made it clear that their reasons for supporting Pride is to support LGBT issues and the queer community, rather than an event that could become an ‘omnibus of unrelated political issues’ if this situation provides a precedence for the future.  There is a concern that while there is still much work to be done for acceptance of LGBT people in the workplace, for legislation that protects trans people, and to highlight countries were homosexuality is criminalized such as Uganda and Russia, that Pride Toronto could become all about Queers against abortion, Queers protesting taxation and various other things.

The role of community members and groups

Participation in our Parade, Market Place and Community Fair is down by 40% against last year and the previous year, resulting in a loss of revenue from fees of around $111,000. When the co-ordinators of these committees have made contact with former participants to understand why they are not applying when in some cases they have been regular annual participants for more than 15 years, the reasons given are the same: they don’t feel welcome, they don’t agree with the ‘politicization’ that is happening, they don’t believe QUAIA’s issue is a true LGBT issue, and most alarming of all, they are concerned about the potential for violence that the ‘inflammatory’ message presents. This is the reaction we have received from non-profit organizations, commercial float entrants, community groups, and marching bands.

The result of this, apart from the obvious financial losses, is that we have come to understand that we are alienating whole sections of the queer community and its allies through the inclusion of QUAIA and their message.

The role of politicians

The majority of our political supporters have stated openly that they are uncomfortable with this issue being included in the Parade. These include the Mayor of Toronto, David Miller, five of the top six mayoral candidates standing for election in October (one of whom is likely to be the next Mayor, and therefore will have significant influence on future Pride festivals), numerous city councillors, The City Manager, the CEO of Arts and Culture for the City, and the Head of Diversity for the City.

The role of InterPride and WorldPride:

Interpride president Trisha Clymore made it clear in email that it would consider the inclusion of QUAIA’s message in our Parade as the hosts of WorldPride 2014 ‘inappropriate and somewhat alarming’.

Liability to the organization

Currently our insurance costs for the festival are around $61,000. Should violence break out during any of our events that results in injury to people or property, we will be required to prove that we have done due diligence to prevent it. Our current Terms and Conditions of participation in the Parade call for the applicant to sign acceptance that no members of their contingent will have drunk alcohol, as this could result in violence or damage to property. Should we overlook the inclusion of inflammatory language that could incite violence either amongst participants or spectators, we will be liable for any injury to person or property that results. By allowing the inclusion of messaging that has had such widespread condemnation from the City, the sponsor organizations, community groups, non-profits and individual participants, we would be unable to prove due diligence should anything happen.

Actions to date

The Pride Toronto Board of Directors last year obtained legal advice on dealing with this issue, and based on that advice refused to take a position and allowed QUAIA to march.

Earlier this year, based on the complaints about discrimination and inflammatory language, we conducted focus group research which produced the finding that whatever their personal beliefs, the majority of respondents felt the Parade was not the place for this issue but could not identify an acceptable way of banning any specific group.

As a result of the focus group research, the Board issued a statement saying messaging would be screened and if found inappropriate would be disallowed in the Parade. This was considered censorship and was not well received by the community. This has precedence as in previous years anti-religious messaging, particularly some calling for death to the Pope, was removed from the parade.

Terms and Conditions for participation were drafted that would empower the organization to take measures against participants whose messages differed from those on their application forms.

As part of the decision making process the board extended an invitation to QUAIA to meet and discuss the options and the possibility of their participation without the term ‘Israeli Apartheid’ Quaia met with the board but refused to compromise on the term.

The role of the media

To date the mainstream media has mostly ignored the issue. In the runup to the announcement there were occasional interviews wanting to know how we planned to deal with it. With the exception of a few short articles when the decision was announced, it has moved on to cover other things. However, a local community newspaper, Xtra, has taken a very strong position on the side of Quaia, no surprise as they generally have an editorial policy of bashing Pride at every opportunity. This, coupled with the prolific use of social media that enables everyone to weigh in, is driving the campaign.

No matter how vocal they are, the number of people involved constitutes at best less than 1% of the community that attends Pride.

The projected outcome

The outcome of all the above and the result that we are facing is as follows:
–        A potential loss of funding totalling at this point $661,000 (a significant portion of our operational budget of $3,5m) which includes City funding and in-kind of $250,000, sponsorship of $300,000 and fee revenue of $111,000.
–        A loss of participation at this point by more than 50 groups – both community and commercial in the parade and street fair.
–        Potential loss of permissions for street closures and entertainment venues, which will result in cancellation of all events and subsequent loss of deposits paid previously for artists, staging equipment, and other suppliers amounting to around $300,000. The Pride Guide will be irrelevant, resulting in a loss of $80,000 in printing costs.
–        The cancellation of the Parade, Dyke March and Trans March
–        Legal action from sponsors and funders for the repayment of sponsor monies due to the inability to fulfil our side of the sponsorship agreements, through visibility at the festival, and the loss of $80,000 in revenue from advertising in the Pride Guide.
–        Legal action is also likely from suppliers with whom we have signed contracts, for breach of contract resulting from cancellation of the festival.

The outcome we were facing in the absence of this decision, therefore, was the cancellation of Pride 2010 and all future Pride festivals, including WorldPride, and the immediate bankruptcy of the organization which has been in existence as a registered non-profit with tremendous goodwill for 15 years.


Faced with the options on the table and the understanding that the risks of losing the entire festival and the organization was a very real risk, the Board of Directors of Pride Toronto made the very difficult decision by means of a democratic vote of 4 – 3 to disallow the term ‘Israeli apartheid’ from the Parade. At no time has the organization taken any position on the Middle East crisis; at no time has it taken any position against Freedom of Expression; at no time has it taken a position on whether or not the issue is a true LGBT issue or not.

The position Pride Toronto has taken is the only one that may be able to save the organization to continue the work it is mandated to do in terms of its mission, vision and values that have been in existence for a number of years, which is that of providing a festival that celebrates the history, courage, diversity and future of Toronto’s LGBTTIQQ2SA communities.

It has taken the position that the management and direction of the organization cannot in good conscience afford to risk the work of the past 30 years and the community that it serves on the possibility that the city motion will not be passed, and it has taken the position that multiple segments of the community cannot be alienated to serve the purposes of one group, however noble the cause of that group.  It has also made it clear to QUAIA that in spite of the risk of losing the city funding and support if we allow them to march, we are prepared to allow it if they agree to do so without the use of the words ‘Israeli apartheid’.

Currently we are taking a real beating with the fall-out of the decision, including the withdrawal from Pride 2010 of various of our 400 performing artists as well as our Grand Marshal and Honoured Dyke, the return of Pride awards from up to 20 former honourees, and the demonization of Pride in local media including regular calls for the resignation of the entire board and staff team. Various community members have offered to try and mediate, however mediation seems to come with a price tag: the reversal of the decision and nothing less. As I’ve outlined above, we understand fully that reversal will mean the end of our Pride and so therefore it is not an option for us.

We believe there is still much work to be done in our community. There are gay bashings that still occur in Canada; in terms of our Global Human Rights for Queers : What OUT is About program, because of our size and visibility, we can help to raise awareness of the atrocities happening in other countries where homosexuality is dangerous; there are trans people that are working hard for legislation that will make their lives easier; there are 1,2 million people that turn out every year for our festival, coming from all over Canada and the USA, often for that one opportunity in the year when they can be themselves in a safe space, when they can participate in events and meet others like themselves, and where they can be accepted without question. These are the reasons why we must survive to do this work, and why we can’t risk everything for one message. Yes, our Pride is political – in itself Pride is a political statement and for us that is the political aspect that counts.

I hope you will all read this with an open mind and feel free to raise any questions that you might have.

Warmest regards

Tracey Sandilands| Executive Director
Work: 416.927.7433 ext. 222 | Cell: 416.524.4554 | F: 1.877.513.6941 | <>
Office Address: 14 Dundonald Street | Toronto | ON | M4Y 1K2
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 371 | Station F | Toronto | ON | M4Y 2L8

Proud to Bring WorldPride 2014 to Toronto!

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