The Vancouver Pride Society will take an approach that will differ from how Pride Toronto handled requests from their city's Black Lives Matter chapter to remove police from the annual Pride parade.
In the wake of BLM Vancouver launching a petition to have the Vancouver Police Department removed from Vancouver Pride parades from this year onward, Vancouver Pride Society operations executive director Kieran Burgess discussed the issue with the Georgia Straight by phone.
Last year, BLM Vancouver posted an open letter on July 15 asking for the police to withdraw from the parade on July 31 and instead participate in a civic-service float.
Burgess clarified the police actually participate in the parade as part of the City of Vancouver.
"One of the big misconceptions is police don't actually enter the parade as the Vancouver Police Department," he said. "It's the city entry from the City of Vancouver so march as a civic service with ambulance, fire, the public library, the City of Vancouver staff. So it's one big public entry that enters the parade. They don't have a stand-alone entry."
Prior to last year's parade, Burgess said that the VPS decided not to rush on any decisions due to the tight time frame and allowed the VPD to participate. They did meet with BLM Vancouver and the VPD before the parade to have a VPD armoured vehicle removed. They also committed to an ongoing dialogue with both organizations.
Burgess said that they have tried numerous times to arrange meetings with BLM but have been unable to schedule anything so far. However, BLM Vancouver will have four members attend the VPS board meeting on February 21.
As part of their commitment to addressing issues raised by BLM Vancouver, the VPS held a community consultation and gathering online feedback from people of colour, indigenous, trans, and lesbian communities. (A second consultation that was to be held tonight had to be rescheduled due to weather and road conditions.)
Burgess said that they have also allocated extra space for community groups in parade and are looking to diversify performers for Pride events.
After Pride Toronto voted to support BLM Toronto's requests to disallow police from participating in their parade, Burgess said that the VPS had a board meeting discussion.
"We discussed that our approach is going to be different," he said. "We recognize that Toronto and Vancouver are very different kinds of cities and have different histories."
The VPS already held a meeting with VPD and RCMP on February 2 to discuss their participation in the parade.
"Our approach this year compared to maybe other Prides was that we want to draw people in and have a conversation about how to change things within their organizations as well as addressing parts of the community we've missed in the past," Burgess said. "So we're really about drawing the Vancouver Police Department and RCMP into conversation and dialogue and change systems from within rather than banning them from our events."
He said that they have received recommendations from the community consultation, such having police not march in uniforms or having the VPD host listening circles or community workshops.
Burgess added that they will have two or more meetings with the VPD about their participation.
He said that they have also received feedback spanning a wide spectrum from people who said they will refuse to attend any parades if the police are banned, and those who will refuse to attend if the police aren't banned.
Despite the debates and controversy, Burgess said that the VPS does recognize the beneficial outcomes of the overall discussion.
"Any criticism of an organization can have positive and negative effects," he said. "One of the big positives is it's really forced this organization to take long overdue look at itself and the communities that we haven't serviced in the past so we wouldn't want to ever speak negatively about those discussions happening. Obviously it presents challenges for us as an organization because we want to support organizations like Black Lives Matter and marginalized and vulnerable groups but we also have good working relationship with the Vancouver Police Department and can see progress within that organization as well."
This year's Vancouver Pride parade will be held on August 6.
Update: The Georgia Straight interviewed BLM Vancouver organizer Daniella Barreto about their position.