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Toronto Toronto to continue funding Pride despite police-related objections

A Toronto Police Service parking enforcement officer waves a Pride flag while marching along the parade route during the Pride Parade in Toronto, Sunday, July 3, 2016.

Mark Blinch/THE CANADIAN PRESS

An attempt by some on Toronto's city council to cancel funding for Pride over the ban on uniformed police at this year's parade failed on Friday, after a heated daylong debate.

The motion, supported by much of council's right wing, was championed by Etobicoke Centre Councillor John Campbell. He later acknowledged to reporters he had never attended Pride, as it conflicts with a local rib festival, and would not attend this year unless police were invited.

His proposal would have pulled the $260,000 grant the city provides to Pride unless organizers recanted and allowed uniformed police to take part. Mr. Campbell called Pride's announcement that gay and lesbian police officers could still march, but only out of uniform, a "sham."

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"You don't bring people together by pushing them apart," Mr. Campbell told council. "And that's been Pride's solution."

But after more than five hours of debate, his call to punish Pride for its exclusion of official police participation failed 27-17, despite impassioned speeches from Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong and Councillor Jon Burnside, a former police officer.

The defunding proposal did not have the support of Mayor John Tory, who says he believes police should be in the parade but was told, by both Police Chief Mark Saunders and Pride organizers, that threatening to cut city funding now would be unhelpful, as the two sides have committed to delicate talks on how to include police again in the future.

"It is to me the Toronto way that you solve things," Mr. Tory said. "You're on a journey to a better place and when you have issues you sit down and you see them through."

The issue – just the latest battle to turn Pride into a political football at city council – dates back to last year, when the parade was blocked by protesters from Black Lives Matter who demanded that police be excluded from official participation in the parade because, they said, their presence to some black, gay or transsexual people was seen as threatening.

In January, members at Pride's annual general meeting voted to exclude the police. In February, Chief Saunders announced that he was not going to insist on an official role for his officers, in the hopes of allowing divisions in the Pride community to heal. Uniformed officers would still patrol the parade and provide security.

Toronto's Pride celebration was actually born out of a protest against a series of police raids on bathhouses in 1981 that outraged the gay community. But in 2005, chief Bill Blair, now a Liberal MP, became the first Toronto police chief to march.

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The city funding does not actually pay for Pride's parade, but covers other parts of the festival, and is only a small part of the event's $4.4-million budget. It also accounts for a tiny sliver of the city's budget. But council's long debate was punctuated both by outbursts and heartfelt speeches.

"They don't say it, but I suspect there are some here who just don't like Pride," said Councillor Joe Cressy, a left-leaning politician in a downtown ward, who noted that Pride funding was targeted in the 1990s over the issue of nudity in the parade, and more recently, over the participation of a group called Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.

"Today we are being told we shouldn't fund Pride because of police participation," Mr. Cressy said. "Somehow, Pride is always held to a completely different standard than every single organization we fund in this city. Nobody's talking about the symphony or the AGO or what their policies are."

Pride's newly hired executive director, Olivia Nuamah, sat in the gallery for Friday's entire debate.

"We understand that we have a long way to go," she said afterward. "This conversation was exactly why we feel we need to take a step back and we really need to reconsider what it means to be LGBTQ in this city."

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