Further details about Vancouver Pride's decision on police participation in 2018 parade—and reactions to it

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      Like many other cities across North America, the debate over police participation in the city's Pride parade has continued on now for a few years in Vancouver. 

      To quickly recap the history of the issue in Vancouver, Black Lives Matter Vancouver (BLMV) first requested the police to withdraw from the parade in 2016. The Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) responded by asking the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) to remove armoured vehicles from the parade.

      After the VPS conducted community consultations and meetings, and an analysis of the police parade entry revealed the police were overrepresented compared to other civic departments, the VPS decided that for the 2017 parade, only 20 percent of the VPD would be allowed to wear uniforms. Unhappy with the decision, BLMV held their own separate march in June. 

      Here are some details about what the decision for the forthcoming parade entails, as well as some reactions to it. 

      Decision for 2018

      On the line with the Georgia Straight, Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) executive director Andrea Arnot explained that at a VPS board meeting in September, the board made the unanimous decision that the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) can participate in the 2018 Pride parade but without uniforms, weapons, or vehicles.

      "We didn't choose to make a public statement because we wanted to do some work before we did that," she said.

      Arnot said she spent two months contacting as many groups or individuals—such as Rainbow Refugee, YouthCO, Out on Screen, Trikone, Salaam Vancouver, Gordon Neighbourhood House, and more—who decided not to participate in the 2017 parade or wrote open letters in response to the decision to allow 20 percent of police officers to wear uniforms in the 2017 parade.

      Rainbow Refugee

      She said she received many positive and receptive responses from those she met in person "to do some bridge building" and "to challenge those groups and individuals who represent certain pockets of the LGBTQ2+ community" to do some trust-building with the police.

      "We, as a Pride organization, have heard from the VPD that their door is open and they're willing to work with anyone to facilitate those meetings and discussions and dialogues," she said.

      She said she contacted BLMV as well, although they were on hiatus at the time. She said they received a response indicating they would like to speak by phone but haven't arranged a time yet.

      BLMV has not responded to an interview request from the Georgia Straight.

      Results of the 2017 decision

      Arnot said they didn't receive any responses from parade sponsors about their decision for the 2017 parade.

      As part of the 2017 decision, the VPS held a listening circle with the VPD, RCMP, and LGBT community members.

      In a debriefing with VPD and RCMP, Arnot said the officers expressed that they learned a lot about things they were unaware of.

      "I think the most common thread of information that they were taking away was that they didn't realize how long people carry the trauma from the past," she said.

      When it comes to addressing these issues, she said she thinks both institutions and individuals have responsibilities.

      "I think there is a responsibility on institutions that have had a history of oppression to do that work and continue to bridge build," she said. "But I think there is a responsibility by individuals to help to create that change. And so sometimes individuals themselves aren't capable of maybe working through it themselves…but there are organizations who represent those individuals who can do that work and help those individuals."

      Vancouver Pride parade 2017
      Craig Takeuchi

      Reactions to the 2018 decision

      In a statement on December 1, VPD spokesperson Const. Jason Doucette stated the VPD was "very disappointed by the decision made by the Vancouver Pride Society to ban VPD members in uniform and in VPD t-shirts from the 2018 Pride Parade."

      He added that the police have "proudly walked in the parade alongside the community for 21 consecutive years."

      However, there is a disagreement over whether or not the VPD was informed about the decision in September.

      "The VPD had no input into the final decision and we heard about the ban through a news article," Const. Doucette stated.

      In contrast, the VPS sent out a news release on December 1 stating that the VPS met with the VPD, which included superintendent Marcie Flamand and LGBT liaison Const. Dale Quiring, on September 21 to discuss the decision. The VPS also added that they contacted the mayor's office about the decision on the same day.

      Nonetheless, Const. Doucette stated that the VPD will continue to work to build trust with LGBT community members.

      "We have an LGBTQ2S+ liaison officer, who is dedicated to working very closely with the community full-time," he noted. "We have implemented the 'Safe Place Program'  in Vancouver in 2016, which has 400 businesses signed up to display Safe Place decals and provide safe haven to the LGBTQ2S+ community members, and this number is growing. However, we recognize that our work is not done and we will continue with our listening and outreach efforts to build on our existing trust and relationships with Vancouver’s LGBTQ2S+ community."

      Arnot also clarified that police marching within the parade is separate from the police serving their law-enforcement roles.

      During community consultations, Arnot said she heard from many senior members of the community who felt the 2017 decision "was really difficult for them because of all the work that they had done in years past about bringing police to actually participate in the parade and want to."

      Velvet Steele

      Velvet Steele is a trans woman who has worked to overcome her own past negative experiences with police by working with them, including forming the group West Enders Against Violence Everywhere (WEAVE), appearing in the VPD's "Walk With Me" video about transgender issues, and more.

      Steele, who said she feels "blindsided" by the decision for the 2018 parade, is part of the Vancouver Pride Legacy Group (VPLG), which formed in early 2017 to counter BLMV's requests about police participation.

      "People who have worked long and hard to get the VPD into the parade, to sensitize them, to educate them, to facilitate situations and trainings with them so they can better understand the community feel like they've been slapped in the face, and that's myself included," Steele said by phone.

      Steele said she has experienced numerous physical assaults and has had past negative experiences with the police, but said she is interested in helping to create change.

      "I do come from a history of violence and have violence that has been very negative with the VPD but I believe in working toward a brighter future and I always will, but to hang on to the past and not be able to move forward to the future is really a sad situation," she said. "When you can't have people at the table to communicate and talk and come to a better resolve…that doesn't really bode well either for any positive dialogue to happen, because none has happened."

      Vancouver Pride parade 2016
      Craig Takeuchi

      Steele wondered how long these requirements would be placed upon police participation or how they would ever end. She also wondered about whether police fetishwear in the parade would become an issue as well. When the Straight asked Arnot about whether police-fetish outfits would be allowed, she laughed and said they don't have a policy about that yet.

      Meanwhile, Arnot downplayed the difference between the 2017 and 2018 decisions.

      "I'm finding it a little bit baffling that everyone seems to be so hyped up about this because the decision is not that much different than what we made last year," she said.

      For more clarifications about the decision for 2018, visit this VPS webpage.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook. You can also follow the Straight's LGBT coverage on Twitter at @StraightLGBT or on Facebook.