'Peace, love, unity and respect': Thousands celebrate Pride in downtown Toronto

TORONTO — Balloons, confetti and bubbles filled the air as thousands of people came together in downtown Toronto on Sunday for one of the biggest annual Pride celebrations in Canada, although the event abruptly ended as it was close to being over after a demonstration blocked the route.

The Toronto Pride Parade marked the culmination of a month’s worth of events celebrating the city’s LGBTQ+ community, with some attendees calling the event a symbol of friendship.

“It gets better every year, it multiplies, we love each other,” said Stephen Storey, who was celebrating his 22nd Pride in Toronto.

But late in the afternoon as the parade was nearing the end, Toronto Police posted on social media that a demonstration during the parade had caused a disruption, and that the parade was "paused temporarily."

Demonstrators sat in the middle of Yonge Street, one group with a Palestinian flag, others holding banners reading "Pride partners with genocide" and "Stop pinkwashing."

Later, Pride Toronto posted on X that the remainder of the parade was cancelled. The post offered no reason but apologized for the inconvenience, and said the street fair and stages were still operating.

In an emailed statement, Pride Toronto said it respected people's right to protest, but made the decision "out of our commitment to ensuring public safety."

"We empathize with those who were looking forward to participating and regret any inconvenience caused by this decision," Pride Toronto's statement said.

Police said no arrests were made in connection with the demonstration. Spokeswoman Laurie McCann said in an email that the decision to cancel the event was made solely by Pride Toronto, without requesting police intervention.

"The Toronto Police have been working closely with Pride Toronto in preparation for this weekend. Pride Toronto communicated to TPS prior to Sunday that they did not want officers to intervene if protestors disrupted the parade. We have respected their request," McCann wrote.

This year's Pride events in Toronto featured many LGBTQ+ newcomers celebrating their first Pride in Canada, including Zhya Aramiy, who relocated to Toronto last year after fleeing persecution for his sexuality in Iraq.

“The feeling that I get here, it just makes me feel home,” said Aramiy. “It just makes me feel like all of these people around me, they are with me and they stand up with me, they support me.”

The parade began at Bloor Street and Church Street with more than 250 groups marching together along Yonge Street down to Nathan Phillips Square.

The groups included LGBTQ+ organizations such as the African Centre for Refugees and Toronto Pflag, all waving Pride flags and cheering alongside the crowds.

A Toronto fire truck also drove along the parade route, draped in Pride flags with rainbow balloons pinned to its roof.

While the parade was still underway, Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow celebrated on a parade float, donning a rainbow feather boa and blowing kisses to the crowd.

“It’s incredible to see everyone supporting each other,” said Michelle O’Neil, who drove two hours from Trenton, Ont., to celebrate the event with her friends as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. "It's an event that's all about love and inclusivity, and I just love that."

At one point during the parade, the clouds darkened and light rain briefly fell, but it didn’t keep celebrants from dancing and smiling, walking to the sound of drums and whistles in colourful outfits.

This year’s parade theme was “Be,” which Pride Toronto called “a resounding statement that says, ‘We are here and always will be.’”

“It’s lovely,” said Megen Rependa, who was celebrating Pride in Toronto for her first time, despite coming out more than ten years ago. "The interactions that you have with people, for the most part, people are happy, they are looking to make connections, everyone's being quite kind to each other."

For Stephen Storey, whose attendance at Toronto's Pride celebrations is an annual tradition that he plans to continue in the years to come, Pride can be summarized in four words.

"Peace, love, unity and respect," Storey said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2024.

Rianna Lim, The Canadian Press