Toronto City Council passed a slew of amendments to its anti-discrimination policies without debate on July 17, in a bid to stifle expressions of dissent against Israeli government policy at city events. The amended policy is the climax of several years of unsuccessful lobbying by certain councillors to defund Pride Toronto in response to its allowing the participation of the controversial group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) to march in the annual parade.
The amended policy singles out Pride Toronto as a recipient of city grant money and directs that “Pride and all groups with competing interests ensure that they are complying with the Ontario Human Rights Code, not contravening hate provisions of the Criminal Code and that all sides are demonstrating mutual respect for the dignity and worth of all involved."
The motion passed by council also directs that any “Major Cultural funding for the Pride Festival be limited to support for cultural elements of the festival including the performance stages and not be used to support the Pride Parade.”
The latter point doesn’t change anything for Pride, as its "major cultural" funding has always been used only for its performance stages and performers, not for the parade itself.
Several city councillors have been attempting to remove Pride Toronto’s funding since 2010, in an attempt to get the organization to ban QuAIA from marching in the parade. Xtra recently reported that these councillors were being lobbied by B’nai Brith and fundamentalist Christians, including the anti-gay fundamentalist speaker Charles McVety.
Pride Toronto had previously told Xtra that it was concerned there may be a walk-on motion from councillors who would attempt to defund the entire organization or place more stringent controls on its spending and activities. In the event, the only amendment offered was a friendly amendment from Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, which clarified that the standard to be used in judging whether funded events meet city objectives promoting respect and diversity would be the city’s Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Policy, Hate Activity Policy, and Grants Policy. City staff have previously determined that the term “Israeli apartheid” does not violate these policies or the Criminal Code.
Pride Toronto had actually deputed in favour of the new policy at the committee stage, hoping that a clear policy applied to all festivals would end the annual debates over Pride funding that have gone back to 2010.
“We are still concerned, of course, that Pride is singled out by name in the motions as they have been passed by council. The policies apply to everyone equally, but Pride is singled out,” says Kevin Beaulieu, Pride Toronto's executive director.
Beaulieu says that he believes that Pride has resolved the QuAIA dispute internally to the satisfaction of the requirements set out by council and hopes that the motion puts an end to the threats to Pride funding.
“We can certainly say that we have addressed the issue responsibly. It’s a great drain on the organization and the community generally to face this again and again. It would be helpful if we could put this behind us,” he says.