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Toronto council funds Pride Week despite participation of controversial group

Revelers hold a giant pride flag as the take part in the Gay Pride Parade in Toronto, July, 3, 2011.

MARK BLINCH/REUTERS

City funding for Pride Week is safe for this year, after Toronto councillors approved their annual grant to the event, but publicly expressed their displeasure with one potential participant in the parade, condemning the use of the term "Israeli Apartheid."

The compromise measure, introduced by Councillor Josh Colle, defused what has become a pressure-filled annual debate over the participation of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid or QuAIA in the Pride Parade.

While the vote settled the funding issue for this year, the debate is far from over.

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Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said he did not want to upset the consensus reached through Mr. Colle's motion, but put organizers on notice that if any group uses the parade for their own political purposes, he will lead efforts to remove funding.

"I don't want this to go on year after year after year. It's not the taxpayers' position to be funding anybody's political statements," he said.

Mayor Rob Ford was not in the council chamber for the vote, but later told reporters he is against city funding for all parades. He also condemned the term "Israeli Apartheid," the use of which is strongly opposed by many in the Jewish community.

"I agree, we shouldn't be using that phrase," he said. "I have never been in favour of funding any parades. I think the private sector should be in there. It's not just Pride. I think we should look at private-sector sponsors to deal with the funding of all the parades."

QuAIA, which opposes Israel's treatment of Palestinians, has registered for this year's parade. After igniting a firestorm of controversy during the election summer of 2010, QuAIA's leaders opted to skip the parade in 2011, saying they didn't want to provide Mr. Ford an excuse to deprive Pride of funding.

Since then, Pride Toronto has introduced a new process to settle disputes, under which any complaints about participants will be sent to a third-party, dispute-resolution panel that will determine whether the organization is allowed in the parade.

Mr. Colle said he worked behind the scenes to win support for his compromise motion, including from Mayor Ford's office.

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"I do find the expression particularly odious. It certainly negatively impacts and offends a large number of people in my community,' he said.

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who voted against Mr. Colle's motion, said she believes Pride Toronto is being treated differently than other organizations that receive city funding. If anyone has an objection with a group's participation in an event, they should file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal or through Pride Toronto's new dispute-resolution process, she said, rather than bring the matter to council.

Howard English, of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said his group hopes to work with the city to craft a policy that will address the issue in the future.

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Kelly Grant is a health reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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