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Vancouver police will march in 2017 Pride parade

News comes after Halifax and Toronto police announce they will not participate in their city’s upcoming Pride

Marchers with the Qmunity contingent from BC’s queer resource centre march at the Vancouver Pride parade on July 31, 2016. Credit: Ross Johnson/Daily Xtra

Halifax and Toronto police may have stepped out of their cities’ Pride parades, but the Vancouver police will still march this year, albeit with a diminished presence. 

The Vancouver Pride Society’s (VPS) community consultations conducted online and in-person revealed, among other things, sentiments that police presence in the Pride parade is threatening to the most marginalized members of the LGBT community, Xtra has previously reported. VPS has met with police to work with them on reducing police presence at Pride, which could include reducing the number of uniformed officers carrying weapons. 

Staff Sergeant Randy Fincham, media spokesperson for the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) replied to Xtra’s request for an interview following the Halifax and Toronto police announcements with this email message:

“The VPD is looking forward to working with our community partners with Black Lives Matter and the Vancouver Pride Society, and have our volunteers and civilian and sworn staff walk with pride for our 21st year in the 2017 Vancouver Pride Parade.”

Black Lives Matter Vancouver co-founder Daniella Barreto says the tendency to dismiss issues of racism and marginalization in favour of marching in the Pride parade shows the VPD lacks commitment to the LGBT community’s safety.

“I think that we have explained this issue over and over again and for the VPD not to change anything given how other police departments have chosen to react, I think that BLM would have even more of a reason to keep talking about this and keep bringing these issues of racism up in Vancouver,” Barretto says. 

“It seems so often that people don’t like to acknowledge it and pretend it doesn’t exist. I think the VPD could really show a commitment by changing their approach.”

Barretto says the VPD and RCMP should issue a statement outlining their support for the queer community, acknowledging that systemic racism does exist in Canada and start a conversation about what inclusion and oppression mean for different groups.

BLM Vancouver has also launched a petition to ask the VPD to stay out of the parade.

Fostering conversation is what motivated the Halifax Regional Police (HRP) to step away from the local parade on Feb 6, says diversity equity officer Amit Parasram.

“I think it was a respectful response to a larger conversation we were having with members of the LGBT community around what are the concerns regarding the police and why it’s become an issue with some of the communities and why might we not want police to be involved in the parade,” Parasram says.

“Given the fact there were concerns in the community about issues that happened elsewhere, when you look at the Stonewall riots, the [1981] baths raids in Toronto and other places, those are internalized as a police issue, so regardless of what uniform you wear, police are police everywhere,” he adds. 

Parasram says his department wants to engage with the community without the pressure of being viewed as “pinkwashing,” or exploiting the parade to benefit from good optics. The HRP wants instead to host a community barbecue this year, where officers and the public can more freely interact as much or as little as they wish.

“It’s not the police’s festival or parade, we have a role to play in it and our job is to be as respectful as we can and not overstep our role, where our needs are superseding the community needs,” he says. “We hope to act as allies in the community so they don’t have to have the police force being a factor that contributes to divisiveness and so we can deliver better community relations as a result.”

Co-chair of the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project Áine Morse says the HRP are moving in the right direction.

“I think it’s a really important starting point in beginning to think about what really goes into police having successful and welcoming relationships with different communities,” Morse says.

However, Morse emphasized the need for consistency in this approach with regard to racism and the treatment of marginalized individuals.

“I think it’s important to identify that these other problems still exist, not much has been done about them and that’s an issue for trans and people of colour and two-spirited people locally.”

Four days after the HRP announced their withdrawal, the Toronto police followed suit.

“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,” said police chief Mark Saunders in a written statement.

Black Lives Matter Toronto was skeptical.

“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,” BLMTO co-founder Alexandria Williams told Xtra on Feb 10, noting multiple attempts to meet with Saunders have been refused. 

Williams called the decision more “hollow statements and empty promises.”