Black Lives Matter Vancouver issued an open letter today (July 15) to the Vancouver Police Department and the Vancouver Pride Society.
A series of events in both Toronto and Vancouver have led up to this request.
The Toronto chapter of BLM brought the Toronto Pride parade to a standstill on July 3 by refusing to move until their demands were agreed to by the Toronto Pride executive director. Their requests included the removal of police floats and booths from the parade. The move sparked controversy and debate.
In response, the Vancouver Dyke March announced on July 8 that they invited BLM-Vancouver to be the grand marshal for the march.
Then on July 12, the Vancouver Pride Society released a statement about their commitment to creating safe and inclusive spaces for everyone. They stated that included "reaching out to Black Lives Matter Vancouver after the Toronto Pride Parade".
Regarding police involvement in Vancouver's parade, the VPS stated:
"We...know that our events like the Pride Parade…would not be possible without the support of our partners, including law enforcement. Vancouver Pride has not had requests from any organization to see police excluded from our events and we will continue working with police to educate and include them in ways that are appropriate. We understand that this may create barriers for some members of our community who feel they cannot access our events."
Citing the example of their Trans Equality Now campaign, which requires all parade participants to sign an agreement to support trans rights, the VPS acknowledged the political nature of the event.
"As an organization, Vancouver Pride believes Pride is not only a celebration. It is political and it is a protest….That is why we support other organizations that continue to call for better treatment of vulnerable and underserved communities."
However, in an open letter addressed to both the VPS and the Vancouver Police Department, BLM-Vancouver stated that the VPS did not contact them directly.
In the letter, BLM-Vancouver explained that they "cannot divorce the policing institution from its historical and continued violence against Indigenous and PoC communities, racial profiling, or inaction around our missing Indigenous women".
BLM-Vancouver announced that they will not participate in the Vancouver Pride parade "because we feel that Pride no longer represents community action, resistance and revolution but also as an act of solidarity with BLM chapters across North America to whom Pride parades have been made inaccessible. We wholeheartedly support the actions of other BLM chapters such as BLM Toronto and BLM San Francisco and although we may not face the same immediate threats of police brutality, we refuse to participate in the whitewashing, armament and exclusivity of any Pride Parade unless concrete and explicit commitments to the contrary are made."
The letter also refers to the history of the relationship between police and the origin of Pride.
"The Pride Parade stems from the Stonewall Riots of 1969, led by trans and queer PoCs [people of colour] against police raids on the establishment. Police raids on bathhouses were commonplace in Toronto until 1981 and the ensuing riots were the roots of Toronto’s own Parade."
While BLM-Vancouver accepts police presence to perform civil services, they object to the VPD participating in the parade.
"Having the Vancouver Police Department on the ground to perform a civil service is understandable," they wrote. "Having the institution participate on a float in the organized festivities of the actual parade is inappropriate and insulting to those who came before us to make Pride celebrations possible, some of who even died for the cause. Embracing the institution in an event that originates from protest against its actions makes us justifiably uncomfortable."
The chapter also raised concerns about the possibility of a VPD military vehicle being in the parade.
"We have heard rumours that there will be a military vehicle included as part of the Vancouver Police Department’s float in the parade…This would be unacceptable to promote in the context of Pride history and would introduce a level of military-grade fear to Indigenous, PoC and Black folks who already grapple with the institutional violence police forces have come to represent. We feel a constant fear as Black people who continue to receive messages in the form of executions by police in the United States by gunfire, to the shrapnel of daily racism we experience, even in Vancouver, that our lives do not matter. Therefore, all lives cannot matter until Black Lives Matter."
Consequently, BLM-Vancouver is asking the VPD to "voluntarily withdraw from marching in the Parade itself as a show of solidarity and understanding as to why participation in this particular manner perpetuates an unsafe atmosphere for the very same Indigenous, POC and Black communities the Vancouver Pride Society has committed to intentionally include."
However, their proposed solution is to replace a VPD-only float with a public-service float.
"We propose that a representative public service float, including police officers, firefighters, paramedics and others replaces the police-only float. This would still include officers who would like to participate. The float would no longer represent the police force as an institution that has been and remains fundamental to the perpetuation of structural violence against Black and brown bodies in North America."
The Vancouver Pride parade is scheduled to be held on July 31.