Toronto mayor expresses frustration after city's police force withdraws from Toronto Pride parade

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      In the wake of debate in several Canadian cities about the participation of police in LGBT Pride parades, another police force has decided to withdraw from a Canadian parade.

      Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders announced on February 10 that the Toronto Police Service will not participate in the city's Pride parade.

      They will, however, proceed with their annual Pride reception.

      "I want to make it very clear that this will have no impact on our ongoing outreach to LGBTQ communities," Saunders stated in a news release. "We will continue to develop respectful relationships and build new ones, focusing on those who feel marginalized, with the trans and racialized communities. I will sit down with any group who feels marginalized, who comes to the table with ideas on how to make things better." 

      While Toronto Mayor John Tory stated his respect for Saunders' decision, he also said that he is "disappointed and frustrated" with the state of affairs.

      "No one should feel excluded from Pride and no group should have to decide it is better if they just don't take part," he stated. "The current situation is not good for a city as inclusive as Toronto. We know that diversity strengthens us as a city and pushing people apart weakens us as a city."

      The withdrawal of the police comes after Pride Toronto voted on January 17 to support several requests from Black Lives Matter Toronto, which included the removal of the police from the parade.

      In 2016, Black Lives Matter Toronto blocked the Toronto Pride parade and refused to move until Pride Toronto's executive director signed a list of their demands.

      The Toronto police announcement also occurs after the Halifax Regional Police announced on February 6 that they will also withdraw from their city's Pride parade on July 22 but will increase involvement in other parts of the festival.

      City News reported that BLM Toronto spokesperson Syrus Marcus Ware said his group was critical of Saunders' statement because the police did not withdraw from the parade but were disinvited. He said BLM Toronto was also disappointed Saunders did not address any issues about policing and anti-blackness as well as carding, or street checks, of specific ethnicities.  

      Toronto mayor John Tory

      Meanwhile, in Vancouver, BLM Vancouver launched a petition on February 7 to have uniformed, armed police officers removed from all future Vancouver Pride parades.

      In an interview with the Georgia Straight, the Vancouver Pride Society stated that they will be not taking the same approach as Pride Toronto, and instead try to work with both BLM Vancouver and the Vancouver Police Department to find a solution for the police to participate in the parade.

      Although BLM Vancouver requested police to withdraw from the 2016 Vancouver Pride parade, the VPS permitted the police to participate but asked them to remove an armoured vehicle from the parade.

      When the Georgia Straight asked if the Vancouver Police Department had any response to the debate, VPD spokeperson Sgt. Randy Fincham issued the following statement today (February 10): "The VPD is looking forward to working with our community partners with Black Lives Matter and the Vancouver Pride Society, and unless requested otherwise, have our volunteers and civilian and sworn staff walk with pride for our 21st year in the 2017 Vancouver Pride Parade, to show support for the entire LGBTQ2+ community." 

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