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Vancouver Pride censoring nudity, says banned Foreskin Pride founder

'It’s clearly stated in the law that you can’t be nude in public,' Lam says

Glen Callender says Vancouver Pride is arbitrarily censoring his anti-circumcision group. Credit: Shauna Lewis

The founder of Foreskin Pride says the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) is trying to censor him. 

Glen Callender has marched pants-less, without incident, in Pride parades in Vancouver and Toronto, but the VPS won’t let him march this year.

Callender says the VPS initially informed him by phone that his application to march in the parade had been rejected due to space constraints.

Skeptical, Callender asked for written confirmation. This time, he says, he was given a different reason for his rejection — that his nudity infringes on VPS rules and regulations.

Not only is this censorship; it's incompetent censorship, Callender alleges.

VPS manager Ray Lam maintains the rejection is primarily due to the parade’s space and time constraints. 

“I want to be clear,” Lam says. “The Foreskin Awareness group was not turned away because of nudity.”

“Every year we receive over 200 applications for the parade, and we try to keep it around 120 entries just because factors like the length of the parade, the parade route and the duration of the parade,” Lam explains. “It’s just more enjoyable for the audience.”

But Lam admits that Callender’s decision to walk pants-less last year contributed to the VPS’s decision to ban him. 

He broke the rules by marching nude, Lam says. 

Asked to explain the VPS’s staunch adherence to anti-nudity protocol this year, Lam says, “We’ve always enforced the rules.” 

But this year, he says, “we just have a stronger system behind it so that we can respond quickly.”

Lam says the VPS has implemented a new monitoring system that makes it easier for the organization to follow up with parade participants who have deviated from VPS regulations.

“We have to follow the law, and it’s clearly stated in the law that you can’t be nude in public,” Lam states.

“That is not something that has to do with Vancouver Pride,” he adds. “That’s not our rules and regulations. We have to follow the law.”

Section 174 of Canada’s Criminal Code says showing one’s genitals in public, with the exception of nude swimming, is against the law.

Asked if the Vancouver Police Department is suddenly pressuring the VPS to strictly uphold the law, Lam shakes his head.

“No, we’ve always enforced our own rules and regulations,” he says.

Vancouver Constable Sandra Glendinning says she is not aware of any past nudity-related infractions addressed by police during the parade. 

“As in past years, police officers will be exercising discretion when receiving reports of or witnessing acts of public nudity,” she says. 

Lam says the parade’s new city-sanctioned civic designation has no bearing on the VPS’s decision to enforce its anti-nudity regulations, either. 

“No, no, no,” says city spokesperson Viviana Zonocco, when asked if the city pressured the VPS to tighten its rules regarding nudity during the parade.

“I’ve spoken with city staff and the streets department who handle the parade, and no, not at all,” she says.

“I think the Vancouver Police Department are really cool about stuff like that,” she adds.

Callender says the VPS should have informed him sooner of the supposed protocol breach.

“I went to the [parade] orientation; I did everything right,” he maintains.

Callender even claims he cleared his plan to walk nude with VPS parade director Tim Kraumanis before the parade last year. 

“I had absolute confidence that the VPS was fine with it because I had talked to the parade director myself,” Callender claims.

But Kraumanis denies giving Callender the green light to march pants-less. 

“I’m aware of Glen's allegations,” Kraumanis tells Xtra by email. “And I can say with certainty that I did not give consent for him to march naked in the parade last year.

“There are many factors that the parade committee considered when selecting the entries for this year’s parade,” he writes. “The most important simply being space; with significantly more applications than slots in the Parade, we unfortunately have to turn away entries. 

“In the case of Foreskin Pride, we did not accept their application on the basis that there are many other community groups that are willing to abide by our rules, and we gave priority to them,” he says.

Former VPS president John Boychuk can attest to the large number of parade applications the organization sees each year. He says the VPS often had to examine variables such as early-deadline entries and criteria met by past participants when approving applications.

But Boychuk says the VPS would often push the space limit to accommodate applicants.

“We never turned anybody down,” he says. 

As for nudity regulations, Boychuk says the city has always suggested the rules be enforced.

“We were always advised by the city that the parade was a family-friendly event and that we should never encourage nudity,” he says. “But there was no way of stopping it, of course. How do you tell someone who’s been marching in the parade for 35 years that they can’t express themselves?” 

Lam says nudity is not the only means of queer expression.

“We had 120 floats last year, all very representative of our community, and there was only one with nudity,” he says. “I understand [Callender’s] position, but there are other ways to communicate his message.”

Former Vancouverite Andre Tardif says he’s surprised by the VPS’s strict adherence to anti-nudity rules.

“I have covered many, many Prides as a photographer and videographer, and I’ve never encountered a problem with nudity,” he says. “It gives me the impression that it’s all a bit Victorian.

“We were born naked and we’ll die naked,” he says.

Callender says he is planning to protest the VPS’s decision.

The VPS says Foreskin Pride can reapply for entry to the 2014 parade.