Premier Doug Ford said Monday he will not march in Toronto's Pride parade this month because police are barred from participating while wearing their uniform.
This is the second year in a row the Progressive Conservative leader will skip the annual event.
Ford's spokesperson told CBC Toronto on Monday the premier will attend the parade when Canada's largest municipal police force is allowed to return.
"He wishes all the organizers of Pride Toronto all the best for a successful month and festival weekend," Ivana Yelich said in an email.
When asked if Ford will attend other parades in Ontario where uniformed officers are welcome, Yelich said his schedule is still being finalized.
The Tory leader has made controversial remarks about the parade before, describing it in 2014 as an event where "middle-aged men with pot bellies" ran down the street "buck naked."
In a statement, Pride Toronto's executive director Olivia Nuamah said the group is disappointed that Ontario's sitting premier will not attend the parade for the first time since 2013.
"Premier Ford is the elected leader for all Ontarians, and the Toronto Pride Parade is one of North America's largest Pride Festivals, and a signature event for Toronto and Ontario," wrote Nuamah.
"We all must bring more openness to these important conversation for this community if we are going to move forward."
Politicians make history with attendance
The city's long-running Pride festival draws a huge crowds to the downtown area each year to celebrate Toronto's LGBTQ community. More than 150 groups and organizations are set to participate in this year's parade on June 23.
Ford's brother, the late Rob Ford, never attended the Pride parade during his time as Toronto's mayor, and courted controversy when he said the event conflicted with a scheduled family weekend at the cottage.
His predecessor, Kathleen Wynne, who is also openly gay, marched into history in 2013 when she became the first sitting premier to take part in the event. Other politicians have also attended the festival — some even marking milestone moments for Toronto and Canada. They include:
- Justin Trudeau became the first Canadian prime minister to march in a pride parade in 2016.
- Former PC leader Patrick Brown was the first Tory leader to head an official delegation in the parade in 2015.
- Mayor John Tory and other city councillors are regular participants.
Police haven't marched in uniform since 2017
Toronto police have been barred from marching in uniform since 2017 amid a strained relationship with the LGBTQ community.
Police presence at the parade emerged as a contentious issue in 2016 when activists with a local chapter of Black Lives Matter staged a demonstration that blocked the parade, in part demanding that police officers and vehicles no longer be part of the festivities along Yonge Street.
Pride Toronto has been in closed-door talks with police brass and Mayor John Tory in an effort to help improve the relationship between officers and the LGBTQ community since that time — but tensions were further inflamed in 2018 following the arrest of serial killer Bruce McArthur.
The homicide investigation unearthed several missing persons cases and confirmed decade-old fears that a serial killer was targeting the city's LGBTQ community. Several groups have spoken out in the aftermath of the McArthur probe, saying police haven't been taking their concerns seriously.
Last fall, an embattled Pride Toronto announced city police would be allowed to make a bid to march in the 2019 parade. The move was met with staunch criticism by its membership, and led many to call for its board and executive director to resign. A close vote early this year, however, overturned the decision and saw uniformed officers once again banned.