2 min

Toronto police chief pulls out of Pride parade

But it’s just ‘hollow statements’ until police really change, says BLMTO co-founder

Police Chief Mark Saunders marching with his family in the Toronto Pride parade in 2016. Credit: Nick Lachance/Daily Xtra

The Toronto police will not march in the 2017 Toronto Pride parade, says police chief Mark Saunders.

“We understand the LGBTQ communities are divided. To enable those differences to be addressed, I have decided the Toronto Police Service will not participate, this year, in the Pride Parade,” Saunders said in a written statement.

“I want to make it very clear that this will have no impact on our ongoing outreach to LGBTQ communities. We will continue to develop respectful relationships and build new ones, focusing on those who feel marginalized, with the trans and racialized communities. I will sit down with any group who feels marginalized, who comes to the table with ideas on how to make things better.”

His statement comes after more than seven months of contentious debate over the police’s relationship with the LGBT community. Alexandria Williams, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto says that Saunders’ words don’t mean much, particularly his offer to sit down with marginalized groups.

“Communities have been putting forward these conversations to have and, time and time again, Mark has not followed through on his commitment to sit down and talk,” Williams tells Xtra, noting that Saunders has refused to meet with BLMTO despite multiple attempts on their part.

“It can’t be this back and forth of hollow statements and empty promises,” Williams says. “Not when our communities are still being brutalized and attacked by the police.”

Williams says the police decision is also late, coming nearly a month after members of Pride Toronto already voted to kick police floats out of the parade. “The reality is that community spoke up,” she says, “and we need to start having further conversations on what is happening in our communities, and the distrust that we have toward the Toronto Police Service.”

During last year’s Pride parade, BLMTO staged a 30-minute sit-in and asked Pride Toronto to sign a list of nine demands, one of which asked for the removal of police from the parade.

Removal of police from floats and booths was heatedly discussed at Pride Toronto’s first town hall on Aug 30, 2016, when they announced that instead of removing police from Pride, they would leave the decision to a dispute resolution process. In September, Pride released a lengthy statement apologizing for wrongdoings, a history of anti-black racism and a lack of accessibility at the parade. At their January 2017 annual general meeting, Pride Toronto’s members voted overwhelmingly in favour of BLMTO’s requests.

Pride Toronto had its first town hall on Aug 30, 2016 to discuss issues arising from last year’s Pride.

Saunders says the police will continue to hold its annual Pride reception. At last year’s reception at police headquarters, he officially apologized for the Toronto Police Service’s role in the infamous 1981 bathhouse raids, 35 years after the mass arrests that targeted the gay community. At the time some Toronto activists criticized the apology as too little, too late.

Earlier this week, the Halifax Regional Police announced in a press release that it would not march in that city’s 2017 parade “after ongoing discussions with Halifax Pride about HRP’s involvement in the festival in consideration of a national debate about police participation in pride parades.”

“We feel that stepping away temporarily from the parade will best support the LGBT2Q+ community by helping to allow for meaningful discussion of this divisive issue,” said Halifax Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais.