News
4 min

Vancouver Pride bans uniformed police from 2018 parade

Co-chair hopes decision will help people who might be uncomfortable in the parade now feel invited to participate

Pride organizers allowed up to 20 percent of police officers to march in uniform in Vancouver’s 2017 parade. Credit: InkedKenny/Xtra

Police officers will not be allowed to wear their uniforms or carry weapons in the 2018 Vancouver Pride parade.

“As a board and staff we came to the decision in September that we were going to have no police uniforms, weapons or vehicles in the parade moving forward,” the Vancouver Pride Society’s executive director told about 25 attendees at its annual general meeting on Nov 25, 2017.

“What we wanted to do was work on building trust and relationships between the police and the people,” Andrea Arnot says.

Police will still be invited to participate in the 2018 Pride parade but only as individuals marching with the City of Vancouver’s entry.

Black Lives Matter Vancouver publicly called for the removal of police in February 2017 with a petition that many local LGBT people and groups supported. As long as Black and other LGBT community members face discrimination from police, Pride should prioritize welcoming marginalized community members, rather than asking them to celebrate alongside a force that oppresses them, BLMV members said.

After months of discussion, Vancouver Pride invited police to march mostly without uniform in the August 2017 parade, though up to 20 percent of the contingent still marched in full uniform with weapons, while the rest wore t-shirts with the police department’s logo. “This is our way through and our compromise for this year,” Arnot told Xtra in May 2017, saying Pride did not want to ban police entirely from the parade.

BLMV called the compromise inadequate, and not a sign of meaningful, internal change.

Now members of BLMV are applauding the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) decision to ban police uniforms, weapons and vehicles.

“We are very excited by this decision — it is a huge victory for Black Lives Matter Vancouver given the work that we have put into making Pride more inclusive, safe and accessible for our community,” the group says in a Nov 28 email statement.

Vancouver Pride executive director Andrea Arnot tells the annual general meeting on Nov 25, 2017, that uniformed police won’t be in the 2018 parade. Credit: Moe Yang/Xtra

There is “no place in our community celebration for an institution that is actively involved and complicit in violence towards Black people in the USA and Canada alike,” BLMV’s statement continues.

“We are very glad we have finally been heard and that the VPS has taken the time to reflect on their organization and honour the words and lived experiences of the entire LGBTQ community, not just those with more privilege.”

Pride co-chair Charmaine De Silva says the decision for next year’s parade has followed a progression since the VPS hired its new management team, including Arnot, and launched community consultations in 2016 on representation and how to make Pride more inclusive.

“We made the policy for last year’s parade based on the conversations we were having in our community consultations,” De Silva explains. But since the 2017 parade, the message to remove police visibility grew overwhelming, she says.

The VPS hopes its new decision will allow people, including police, to participate in Pride 2018 “in a way that respects or tries to make other people who might feel uncomfortable or unsafe in the parade feel invited as well,” she says.

De Silva says police have responded positively and will cooperate to work with the community in a different way.

Contacted for comment, Constable Jason Robillard referred all questions back to the Pride Society and sent Xtra a police statement from May 2017 expressing the department’s ongoing commitment to the LGBT community and to working with Pride.

Cicely Blain, a member of BLMV, appreciates the bravery of Pride’s decision, but wishes the VPS had announced it publicly. “I think given the backlash and discrimination that BLMV and Black queer and trans folks experience in general, it would be a show of genuine solidarity if they announced publicly.”

Blain also regrets that BLMV members were not able to arrange a meeting or phone call with Arnot to hear the news directly; they would have liked an email with the details, rather than hearing it through the grapevine.

“Regardless, we are committed to Black liberation, social justice and an inclusive Pride, so this decision represents a turning point in Vancouver politics that is worth celebrating, regardless of the communication mistakes,” Blain says.

Arnot, who is currently Pride’s only executive director until a replacement can be hired for her former co-director who resigned to move back to Australia after the 2017 parade, says she has met with or reached out to each person or organization who called for Pride to take action over the past year.

Now she challenges those groups to work with the Vancouver Police Department. “I feel that if all the people and groups who called us out last year approached VPD focused on institutional change — there’s a lot of power in that,” she suggests.

“Last year everyone kind of put VPS in the middle,” she says. “BLM, interest groups and the VPD. We can make the change to our policy and our parade, but if we want to be making lasting institutional change, everyone has to be doing that work, and it’s ongoing work.”

Arnot says Pride’s role should be to hold the police accountable to their commitment.

“So if this organization goes to VPD and gets a closed door — and VPD has told us their door is open and they’re willing to do that work — that organization can come to us and say, ‘Hey, I got stonewalled, can you help us?’ and we can put pressure on,” she says.

“If VPD says their door is open, great, I’m going to believe them and expect people to be able to go to them and things to start happening,” Arnot says.

VPS co-chair Michelle Fortin initially told the annual general meeting that police who choose to march in 2018 would be allowed to wear branded t-shirts marking them as VPD, but Arnot later clarified to Xtra that she will be asking police officers not to bring any branded clothing.

“We’d like to have a conversation with them about that, about just being themselves in the parade, and hopefully the city will do City of Vancouver shirts,” Arnot says, adding “that conversation still needs to happen.”