Councillor James Pasternak speaks on the floor of council, June 7, 2012.
The Pride festival will get city funding this year despite a controversial Palestine solidarity group's intent to take part in its main event.
A $123,807 grant to Pride Toronto sailed through city council Thursday in a unanimous 33-0 decision, allaying fears that the LGBTQ celebration would once again be held hostage by a messy political fight about Mideast politics.
But a majority of councillors also voted to attach an amendment to the grant that condemned the use of the term "Israeli apartheid," a reference to Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, the organization that reignited a familiar controversy this year by registering to march in the Pride parade on July 1.
In 2011 council voted to withhold Pride Toronto's funding until after the parade to ensure that QuAIA kept its promise not to take part. Councillor James Pasternak had raised the possibility of attempting to delay the money again this year, but with many at City Hall weary of the annual conflict that pits Israel's supporters against the Pride community, he opted not to put the festival's finances in jeopardy.
"The whole idea was to create some kind of a compromise - express our displeasure and offense at the term Israeli apartheid, but at the same time not punish an important economic and cultural event," Pasternak said.
The symbolic motion to denounce the term was moved by Councillor Josh Colle, and passed 26-7.
The grant to Pride was part of a larger $6 million funding package given to a group of major cultural institutions that also includes the Art Gallery of Ontario, Luminato, and the Toronto International Film Festival.
Pride co-chair Luka Amona said he was pleased to get the money, but wondered why his is the only group that regularly has its grant put at risk.
"Pride appears to be treated differently from other communities and other major festivals," Amona said. "They don't appear to be having to go through the same hoops, year after year."
Councillor Gord Perks, who voted against Colle's motion, believes the LGBTQ festival is being unfairly singled out. He pointed out that film festivals and plays that receive city money may also have offensive content, and is concerned council's denunciation of "Israeli apartheid" it sets a dangerous precedent about free political speech in Toronto.
"I most certainly hope this council doesn't take up the business of trying to restrict what is said at cultural events throughout this city. That would be disastrous," he said. "Governments shouldn't have that power."
QuAIA itself is unfazed by council's censure however. Spokesperson Tony Souza says his group still intends to march in the parade.
"They can condemn the phrase Israeli apartheid, but it doesn't do anything," he said. "It doesn't affect us in any way and we will carry on our work."
Despite Thursday's funding decision, the fight over QuAIA's Pride participation will undoubtedly carry on.
At least one pro-Israel organization is expected to file a complaint with Pride's untested dispute resolution process in the next few days.
Councillors too are keeping a close eye out. In a speech on the council floor, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said that if Torontonians are offended by QuAIA's participation at this year's parade he'll take steps to pull funding for all of Pride in 2013.
"I'll tell you right off the bat, next year I'll be the first guy out to say no funding, ever," Holyday vowed.
Pasternak is also not giving up his efforts. An update to the city's discrimination policy is due next Tuesday at the mayor's executive committee, and Pasternak is hoping that it will be "tightened up" to prohibit funding for any event that includes the phrase "Israeli apartheid."
But he could have a hard time shaping the policy to his desired effect. The term has never been classified as discriminatory in a Canadian court of law nor by the Ontario Human Rights Coalition, and the city banning it would be unprecedented.
Pride starts on June 22, and runs for 10 days.