More than 120 groups marched along a rainy downtown parade route as close to one million revellers celebrated the vibrant culture at the largest Pride Parade in Canada.
While celebrating the LBGTQ+ communities is a central component of the month long celebration, the 38th annual parade adhered to its protest roots, taking time to reflect and advocate for how much more work needs to be done.
“Part of the reason so many people come, because in their daily lives they don’t get to have visibility and a platform this parade provides and they are able to see others in the community just like them,” said Olivia Nuamah, the Executive Director of Pride.
Once again, uniformed police officers were not permitted to join in the festivities. This is the second consecutive year police have been excluded from marching in the parade.
Tensions involving police and the parade started brewing in 2016, when members of Black Lives Matter abruptly halted the march to present several demands, among them that uniformed police, their floats and cruisers be excluded.
The group cited tensions between the force and black citizens arising from racial profiling, among other things.
Earlier this year, members of the LGBTQ community accused Toronto police of failing to seriously investigate the disappearances of men linked to the city’s gay neighbourhood for years – until January, when 66-year-old landscaper Bruce McArthur was arrested and subsequently charged with eight counts of first-degree murder.
Pride Toronto paid tribute to McArthur’s alleged victims as part of a moment of silence for LGBTQ+ victims of violence.
As well, marchers dressed in black followed behind the main parade in what organizers called the Until We’re Safe march as a tribute to members of the community who were lost as well as those who fell unsafe in the community.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath wore a black arm band around her wrist Sunday as a signifier of the “poignant” and “painful” moment the community is facing after the deaths of eight of McArthur’s alleged victims.
“There are still tensions with the police and I believe that dialogue has to continue to happen and that it will resolve with respect from both sides, but those things are part of the context of moving us forward as a province and as a city, and I’m happy to be here and part of that positive revolution,” Horwath said.
Everyone from dignitaries to organizers and spectators said the recent tensions weren’t far from their minds.
“We are reminded today of a terrible tragedy that befelled this community and really the entire city and the whole country with the loss of the men. … I view Pride as a much bigger healing process,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said, noting that he recently initiated an independent review of the police’s handling of missing persons cases.
“We still have a lot of work do to make sure these things don’t happen.”
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh pointed out that Pride is a “revolutionary movement to take space for a community that has always been marginalized.”
“Love is love, it truly is, but there is so much more that needs to be done… There’s been concerns around a trust that’s broken down,” he said.
“The only way we can have good policing is when there’s a trust between the police and the public and that is something we need to have.”
Noticeably absent from the parade was premier-designate Doug Ford, who had said he would consider marching in the parade once police were no longer excluded. His late brother, former mayor Rob Ford, also often skipped the event to head to the family’s cottage.
Both Singh and Horwath said Ford should have been in attendance.
“It is not surprising that he’s not here,” Singh said.
Outgoing and openly gay Premier Kathleen Wynne had a message for Ford.
“Canada and Ontario are a beacon for inclusion and it is very important for us to understand that as elected people,” she said. “It is our job to contribute to that and bring people together.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who marched in last year’s parade, wasn’t in Toronto for this year’s event. He opted instead to take part in Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day celebrations in Quebec.