Toronto police withdraw bid to march in Pride parade amid community concerns

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Toronto police say they will withdraw their application to march in the city’s Pride parade after event organizers said the presence of uniformed officers would make members of the LGBTQ community feel unsafe.

Chief Mark Saunders said in a statement Tuesday that he hopes the move “will be received as a concrete example” of the fact that he is listening closely to the community’s concerns.

“I am committed thoroughly to building a better, stronger relationship between us,” he said. “Much more work is needed, of course. But hopefully this moment moves us forward in an important way.”

Pride Toronto and other community groups had posted a letter online Monday night asking police to withdraw their application, saying that the force should instead work on better communication with the LGBTQ community.

Pride Toronto’s executive director, Olivia Nuamah, said individual officers will still be allowed to participate in the parade if they leave their uniforms, cruisers and guns at home, as those are symbols that make the LGBTQ community feel unsafe.

She noted that the force’s handling of high-profile deaths connected to the city’s gay village — including that of trans woman Alloura Wells, Tess Richey, who was strangled and left at the bottom of a stairwell, and at least six men allegedly murdered by an accused serial killer — have shaken relations with police.

“That’s the context that this letter was drawn up in,” she said in an interview before Saunders announced his decision.

“In asking them to (withdraw), instead of spending that time planning their participation in the parade, what (police) would do is spend that time planning how to better consult with the LGBTQ community about what it thinks it needs to keep itself safe.”

Tuesday’s developments were the latest in ongoing tensions between Toronto’s LGBTQ community and city police.

In January last year, Pride Toronto adopted a list of demands issued by the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter that included banning police floats from the annual parade. Black Lives Matter said it opposed police presence in the parade because it could discourage marginalized communities from participating.

The following month, Saunders announced the force would not be participating in 2017’s event, citing divisions within the LGBTQ community as a key motivator.

On Tuesday, the chief said he had hoped to see uniformed officers invited back to march in the 2018 parade, but said he understands that insisting they be allowed to participate could set back progress made with the community.

“I strongly believe that we should be working toward a time when this issue is no longer a point of controversy and where the participation of our members in the Pride Parade is accepted and welcomed,” he said.

“The Toronto Police Service will work hard over the course of the next year toward that end and, ideally, the 2019 Pride Parade will offer an opportunity to demonstrate that progression.”

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press