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Toronto police won't participate in Pride Parade, Black Lives Matter responds

Last Updated Feb 10, 2017 at 6:46 pm EST

Toronto’s police chief said Friday his force will not participate in this year’s Pride parade, pointing to divisions within the LGBTQ community as a reason for his decision.

Chief Mark Saunders said the move “will have no impact” on the force’s ongoing outreach to LGBTQ communities.

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

The city’s Pride parade last summer was interrupted by a protest from Black Lives Matter and only resumed when Pride Toronto’s then-executive director Matthieu Chantelois signed a list of demands put forth by the group that included a ban on police floats in future parades.

Chantelois later said he only agreed to the demands in order to get the parade moving again. Last month, members voted at a Pride Toronto’s annual general
meeting to adopt the Black Lives Matter demands, including the banning of police floats from Pride marches and parades.

The local chapter of Black Lives Matter said Friday it is disappointed with Saunders’ statement.

“They are trying to flip the narrative and make it seem as if they are choosing to pull out of Pride when in fact they were uninvited,” said spokesperson Syrus Marcus Ware.

Marcus Ware said they are frustrated that Saunders’ statement makes no mention of issues such as “anti-blackness and policing, around issues of carding.”

The group has been a vocal critic of the controversial practice of carding, also known as street checks, which it says unfairly targets young black, brown and indigenous people. Marcus Ware also cast doubt on the chief’s offer to meet with marginalized groups, saying Saunders has so far refused to meet with Black Lives Matter.

Saunders said Friday that Toronto police would continue to develop respectful relationships with trans and racialized communities, promising to sit down with “any group who feels marginalized, who comes to the table with ideas on how to make things better.”

In addition, he said, Toronto police will continue to hold its annual Pride reception.

The chief’s decision comes just days after Halifax’s police force said it would not participate in that city’s Pride parade this year. Halifax Regional Police said the decision was made after several months of discussions with Halifax Pride, and took into consideration the “national debate” about police involvement in such events.

The local police chief cited Toronto specifically as an example of a city where there had been concerns about police presence in pride parades.

Mayor Tory’s statement on Toronto Police participation in Pride

“I respect Chief Mark Saunders’ decision to have the Toronto Police Service step back from the Pride Parade this year.

I am disappointed and frustrated with the current situation. No one should feel excluded from Pride and no group should have to decide it is better if they just don’t take part. This current situation is not good for a city as inclusive as Toronto. We know that diversity strengthens us as a city and pushing people apart weakens us as a city.

I have proudly participated in Pride for years and I want to thank the police for everything they have done to support this important event. I also want to thank police for how far they have come in their relationships with the LGBTQ2S communities. Our police officers should be commended for the bridges that have been built and that they are continuing to build.

I’ve confirmed with the Chief that this decision will have no impact on the service’s ongoing outreach to LGBTQ2S communities. That’s important and the only way this issue will be resolved one day, hopefully very soon.

With respect to police participation in future Pride parades, I remain hopeful that the parties involved can find a way to resolve this issue as soon as possible and to ensure that we can continue to build those vitally important bridges.”