Funding problems the real reason Pride invited Toronto police back to the parade

Confidential backgrounder sent to Pride Toronto members ahead of special meeting Tuesday says the decision to disinvite police in 2016 has led to "mounting debt" for the organization

Pride Toronto is holding a special meeting of its membership Tuesday (January 22) to vote on Toronto police participate in this year’s parade. The move comes after last month’s Annual General Meeting was prematurely adjourned before the issue could be debated.

The vote, which will be open to Pride Toronto members but closed to the media and the general public, is scheduled to take place at Ryerson University, as well as online and by proxy. 

Pride Toronto’s bylaws do not outline a process for online voting, but it has been clarified by the Pride board that members will receive an email with a link to a voting platform. It’s not clear how much discussion there will be on the question of police participation in Pride at the meeting itself. What is clearer is that the result of the vote will be binding for two years.

But there is some ambiguity surrounding the wording of the question on which members will be voting. The wording seems to suggest that the only question for members is whether the participation of police should take place in uniform or not.

It reads: “Should the Toronto Police Service be permitted to participate in Pride Toronto’s Festival Weekend, Parade, and Streetfair, to include their uniforms and vehicles?”

Gary Kinsman, a retired professor and member of the No Pride in Policing Coalition (NPPC), says that the organization has sent a number of letters to Pride seeking clarification on the wording. He says he has been told that a no vote means no police participation in an institutional way in any Pride events.

In 2016, Black Lives Matter – Toronto held up the parade with a demonstration to protest police involvement in the parade and their interactions with the LGBTQ and marginalized communities. Pride Toronto board members voted against allowing the police to participate the following year. The police withdrew their application to march in 2018. 

But this past October, amid continuing criticism of the Toronto police’s mishandling of the investigation into alleged Village serial killer Bruce McArthur, Pride executive director Olivia Nuamah announced plans to allow police to apply once again to participate in the parade. The announcement, made at a press conference alongside Toronto police chief Mark Saunders and Mayor John Tory, prompted a backlash from queer and trans activists, including calls for Nuamah’s resignation

Nuamah declined to comment on Tuesday’s vote when contacted by NOW. In a defense of Pride’s decision to invite police back in the parade, Nuamah wrote in an op-ed in NOW last month that “the Toronto Police Service, along with the many agencies that impact all communities of colour, must work together to realize change. This is why we invited them to apply to take part in next year’s parade – we are seeking to start a new relationship, with real and positive outcomes, through doing the actual work it will take to make the change we all seek.”

But the minutes of Pride Toronto’s October 15, 2018 board meeting suggests funding problems faced by the organization is what led to the decision to invite police back. The minutes state that Pride is “at risk of becoming insolvent” and that the organization was relying on “funding focused on facilitating ongoing dialogue to try to ease tensions between the LGBTQ2+ community and police” to stay afloat. In December, the federal government announced $450,000 in funding for Pride to embark on a nationwide examination of relations between police and LGBTQ communities. The money is reportedly part of a $1.2 million funding package.

A confidential backgrounder sent to Pride membership ahead of Tuesday’s meeting and obtained by NOW sets out Pride’s financial situation in stark terms.

It states that the decision to disinvite police in 2016 – coupled with a “significant internal re-organization” – created a gap in corporate and public funding that “has had long term impacts on the financial health of our organization, the main one being mounting debt.”

The backgrounder goes on to state that the organization was “unable to re-establish all of our sponsorship relationships in time for our fiscal year end in 2017” and that while in the past, Pride could weather the decision not to allow police to participate, “Pride Toronto could not withstand any threats to its funding and continue to operate.”

According to an independent auditor’s report, Pride ran an operating deficit of nearly $250,000 last year and that, as of July 2018, is some $700,000 in the red. The audit also reveals that Pride plans to cut costs and raise revenues for the 2019 event by reducing the number of stages from 14 to 3 and increasing the number of ticketed events from four to 10.

Beverly Bain, a professor of gender and women studies at the University of Toronto, calls Pride’s prioritization of funding an affront to marginalized communities.

“What Pride Toronto is saying to us is that the needs, the concerns of a large portion of its membership is actually not important… our concerns and our interests actually do not matter.”

Bain says that Pride “is our time celebrate. It is also our time to occupy space, and I don’t think it works well in a situation where those of us who already feel unsafe are in the presence of police officers.”

Bain says that the relationship between LGBTQ2+ community members of colour and the police remain fractured and may even have gotten worse. A recently-released Ontario Human Rights Commission inquiry has found, among other things, that Black people in Toronto are 20 times more likely to be killed by police than white people.

“We have been the ones who have raised really critical issues around racism, around police violence and to not take that seriously, to see that and actually dismiss and undermine our contribution… is really problematic,” Bain says.


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