3 min

Squabbling over support for Pride

Somerset Village not part of this year's Pride festival

A squabble over patios means the stretch of Somerset St that includes Ottawa’s oldest gay bar will not be included in this year’s Pride Street Festival.

Centretown Pub owner Ed St Jean says his bar has been excluded because of a Pride fundraising scheme that went sour last year, but Robin Duetta, Pride’s interim executive director, says the issue is illegal patios and involves several businesses in Somerset Village.

“You look at the other festivals that have gone through the same process and you see that you can very quickly lose control if you just let people openly defy what you are up to,” says Duetta. “What does that say to the businesses on Bank St that are paying money to participate in our event and support us, if all of a sudden people around the corner from them can just defy anybody else’s wishes and set up illegal patios?”

Although licenses are a City of Ottawa responsibility, the Pride Committee applies to the city for a declaration, which then includes a non-objection from the city to certain businesses having extensions to their patio licenses. Businesses pay a fee of one dollar per square foot to the Pride Committee to have an enlarged patio included in that declaration.

Last year, St Jean had a deal with the Pride Committee. In exchange for participation in a bus tour fundraiser CP was not charged a fee for their patio. But the deal did not go smoothly.

“At the last minute [the fundraiser] fell through,” explains St Jean, “and they wanted to charge a cover charge to all patrons coming into Centretown Pub and also The Lookout. So the two clubs said no.”

St Jean says he tried unsuccessfully to contact Duetta several times about a patio this year, before confronting him on the street.

“He explained to me that his project didn’t work out last year and so he felt that I should compensate him for it,” says St Jean. “I said, ‘Well, you could have talked to me over the course of the year about this.’ I asked him what we could do to rectify the problem and he quote-unquote told me that a ‘substantial contribution’ that he could take back to the Pride Committee might convince them to give me my patio license. I said, ‘That’s like extortion.'”

Duetta denies St Jean’s charge.

“I categorically deny that that was the intent or the impression that should have been taken from our position,” insists Duetta. “Our position is that a number of people benefitted greatly from the people that were [at Pride celebrations on Somerset St] and the sale of alcohol. The position of the board has always been that Somerset St merchants should pay as much as anybody else for the value of their patios.”

St Jean says he tried unsuc-cessfully to negotiate a deal with Duetta for this year, saying that he would pay the patio fee and any other fees if he received an invoice. Duetta counters that Somerset Village simply isn’t part of the festival site this year and isn’t covered by the agreement with the city.

“There’s a restaurant at the end of Somerset that wasn’t even there last year,” says Duetta. “Unfortunately, they’re not going to be part of the festival site either, but it’s because their restaurant is at the end of the street. The Pride board made a decision to close the festival site off, so Atlantis Café is not going to be part of the site. Well, I go to eat there, they are very nice people, maybe they would have participated this year if Somerset had been open, but it’s not about one particular place.”

Ed Mitchell, chair of the Somerset Village Business Improvement Area, says he is disappointed with the decision.

“In the past there have been some problems on both sides complying with agreements,” Mitchell admits, but adds that he had thought there would be an agreement to include Somerset in the festival district.

Mitchell is also on the board of the Bank St BIA and principal owner of the Duke of Somerset, fronting on both Somerset and Bank Sts.