4 min

Toronto city council dodges responsibility for Pride censorship

It was the usual kind of sleazy move: McCaskell

Toronto city councillor and mayoral candidate Giorgio Mammoliti

Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti’s motion to defund Pride Toronto was withdrawn at the city hall executive committee meeting this morning. Pride Toronto’s decision to censor any “Israeli apartheid” messaging rendered the motion redundant.  

Video maker Roy Mitchell was one of a number of activists prepared to depute the motion but was left unheard. Citing “a vacuum of leadership here,” Mitchell says, “the city got Pride to do its dirty work.”

“It was the usual kind of sleazy move,” agrees Tim McCaskell, speaking for the contested activist group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. 

“Rather than hear the deputations, they essentially said, ‘Pride’s already done the dirty work so we don’t have to deal with it anymore.’ They basically ducked the whole issue,” McCaskell says. “That’s especially disappointing given that the city was so instrumental in putting pressure on Pride.”

Read the complete background here.

Mammoliti’s motion was up for a full council vote last month but an 11th-hour intervention from Kyle Rae had it punted to today’s executive council meeting for a vote. In between, Pride Toronto elected to censor messaging and stave off any vote against them.

When Mammoliti issued his ultimatum back in April, he insisted Pride Toronto should be “the ones who have to make this decision.” Now, Dan Leggieri, his media relations director, says, “Everything went the way we hoped it would. Pride Toronto lived up to the agreed-upon standard and upheld what councillor Mammoliti and other members of council asked them to do, so there’s no need to withdraw any funding at this point.”

With earlier talk of Pride Toronto’s funding in 2011 being jeopardized by QuAIA’s involvement in the parade, says Leggieri, “all councillor Mammoliti did was expedite the process for a resolution he feels is correct.” Leggieri rejects any notion that Mammoliti has moved to stifle debate. “It’s not a matter of censorship,” he says. “It was deemed inappropriate that Pride Toronto was allowing this group to participate.”

But deemed by who? Through all of this, says McCaskell, “it’s never been up to any vote in the city, so no councillor has ever been able or required to take responsibility for this issue.” While it’s easy to point fingers at Mammoliti, McCaskell says the councillor is “running last in the mayoralty campaign and looking for any kind of publicity. If he can endear himself to the right wing by getting Pride defunded, he’s gonna try it.” The real problem, says McCaskell, is city councillors “evading their responsibilites.”

“We’re preparing to put in an omsbudsman complaint about the city’s behaviour in this because they’ve basically contravened their own policy on this,” says McCaskell, noting that Mammoliti and others consulted with gay lawyer Martin Gladstone, who self-produced an anti-QuAIA documentary called Reclaiming Our Pride

McCaskell says the city listened to “someone I consider an unregistered lobbyist without ever advising us we were being discussed. They cooperated with slanderous accusations against us without ever giving us an opportunity to reply. There was no process to determine whether we had ever broken any city bylaw, and they made statements to the press that we might have, in order to put pressure on Pride.”

Mitchell, now part of the Pride Coalition for Free Speech, stresses he’s not a member of QuAIA but cheers the group on. 
“The other side is such a mystery to me,” he says. “Aside from Martin Gladstone, who are the groups representing this community that ‘doesn’t feel safe?’ So many queer groups have spoken up to support free speech; where’s the list for the other side? If there’s that many people phoning up Pride and saying, ‘I don’t feel safe,’ form a group and march too! How can we say this is a polarizing issue when it’s just a few people?”

Pride Toronto executive director Tracey Sandilands has claimed that groups have bailed out of the parade over fears of violence due to QuAIA’s involvement but won’t say who. Mitchell scoffs at the secrecy: “Even the membership list at Pride is secret. Everything is veiled in secrecy.”

Pride Toronto did not return Xtra‘s call for an interview.

Mitchell says previous attempts at Pride censorship have been equally offensive.

“People have tried to get TNT Naked Men banned. Those crazy Raelians were banned because they said something against the Catholic Church, who’ve done so well with public relations, and then this contract Pride makes performers sign saying they won’t say anything political on the stage — all this censorship happening and who is it making Pride safe for? It’s not a safe space! You’re not going to not be offended at Pride… it’s not a bridal show!”

Through the controversy, both the city and Pride Toronto have insisted that the festival should be a “celebration” and not political.

“How do you celebrate being gay without it being political?” Mitchell laughs. “You can be involved in politics and still get laid. What if there are people who want to form the group ‘Queers Against Greenland Whaling?’ Don’t we want to see our community mobilize around issues and not be complacent about them?”

Thanks to the city’s punting the issue back to the Pride board, Mitchell says, “We’re left in a limbo-land again,” and more importantly, nothing has been settled. The word “apartheid” may be stifled, he says, “but it’s never been about the word.” Ten years ago, Mitchell says, activists were criticized for calling the Gaza situation an “occupation,” but now “that’s the word they’re asked to use instead of ‘apartheid,’ which gets more attention.”

Ultimately, Mitchell says, “I don’t want to be part of a censorious community. We fought hard enough to be inclusive, but now to see our language and diversity being used against us is Orwellian.” McCaskell says QuAIA will be marching in the parade regardless: “We’re not a hate group. We haven’t broken any policy; it’s simply our politics that they don’t like.”