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City council leave Pride alone - dispute is between them and BLM
July 12, 2016
By Chris Selley

City councillors will waste a lot of time this week discussing things they shouldn’t want to or have to. They will debate whether playing ball hockey and basketball on residential streets ought to be legal, which is bonkers whatever they decide. Yet again, they will debate whether to require licences of bicycles, cyclists or both - as if this city’s scandalously incompetent motorists prove the concept. They will debate the fate of eight privately owned trees.

And I kid you not, they will debate who should get floats in a private organization’s parade. Coun. Justin Di Ciano has moved a motion that “council re-affirm its support for the Toronto Police Service’s participation in the annual Toronto Pride parade.”

For those who haven’t been following: Black Lives Matter held up the Pride parade on July 3 until Pride executive director Mathieu Chantelois signed off on nine demands, including the “removal of police floats/booths in all Pride marches/parades/community spaces.” But Chantelois later suggested he wouldn’t be bound to terms agreed under duress: “Black Lives Matter isn’t going to tell us there’s no floats in the parade,” he told CP24. And the debate has been raging - several debates, in fact - ever since.

Mayor John Tory wrote to Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack pledging support for police “participation contin(uing) in the years to come,” and publicly avowed “serious concerns” if the cops were in fact “excluded.” And it wouldn’t be Toronto city council if it didn’t also blunder in with its fly down. For all its increasing skepticism of the police status quo, this is still the body that voted 36-0 to congratulate police for their stellar work during the 2010 G20 summit.

Despite what you might read on Twitter, all are certainly entitled to express their opinions about Pride’s conflict with BLM - city councillors included. If I had a meaningful opinion, I’d share it. But I don’t. I support Pride, because it’s a big fun celebration of hard-won liberty and equality. And I support Black Lives Matter, because they’re trying to get police to stop killing so many people.

The two groups are having an argument, and it’s up to them to work it out. It isn’t my parade, and it isn’t city council’s either. If Pride wants to ban Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, uniformed police officers or anyone else - or accept them - that ought to be between Pride and its broad and diverse constituency, of which I am not a member.

Toronto has a lot of work to do on the police file: the budget is bloated, and low-hanging fruit remain uneaten; trust in some communities is frayed or broken; accountability mechanisms are a cruel joke that ought to anger the city’s legions of fine officers as much as the average citizen; use of force standards fall foul of public expectations, which are the only expectations that matter; McCormack continues to talk as though his members are some kind of protected minority group. That it’s mostly much worse across the border is no reason not to treat these as matters of supreme urgency.

Whether or not police get a float in a parade is not a matter of urgency. The only claim the mayor or council really have to a meaningful opinion is the $260,000 city taxpayers chipped in for this year’s festivities. They’re free to butt out regardless, and I wish they would: you don’t often find councillors giving notes to the Canadian Opera Company or Toronto Symphony Orchestra, which receive far more (and far more dubious) municipal contributions.

That said, Pride might do fine without that $260,000. City contributions were just five per cent of its total revenues in 2015, and it finished the year with an accumulated surplus of nearly $800,000. Much of the debate since Black Lives Matter’s intervention has revolved around Pride’s history as a protest movement born out of comparable police abuses, and its inexorable transformation into an entirely mainstream event: conservative politicians march in it; big corporations festoon it with their brands; where city councillors once demanded Queers Against Israeli Apartheid be excluded, now they demand police be included.

As I say, that’s not really my business. But if Pride is of a mind to reconnect with its bolshie roots and rid itself of council’s turbulent priests, it might consider forgoing public money entirely. In a healthy city, police absolutely should be marching in a parade like Pride - and no parade like Pride should be compelled, by anyone, to decide one way or the other.