Pride Toronto opens door for city police to possibly rejoin summer parade after 2-year ban

City police would be allowed to march in the 2019 Pride parade following a two-year ban if they meet Pride Toronto's entrance policy, the organization says. 

Canada's largest municipal police force will be able to make a bid to have uniformed officers rejoin the march, which is held every June, Pride Toronto announced Tuesday morning. 

"We will review the application and provided they meet our Rules of Parade Entry policy, they will be granted a marching permit for the 2019 parade," Amber Moyle, director of development and special events for Pride Toronto, said in a news release. 

Mark Blinch/Canadian Press

Executive director Olivia Nuamah is discussing the details of the controversial move during an 11:30 a.m. ET news conference Tuesday at The 519 Community Centre, in the heart of the city's Gay Village. Mayor John Tory is also in attendance.

The organization has already officially opened registration for this summer's parade — one of the biggest in North America.

Pride Toronto's Rules of Parade Entry, or R.O.P.E., stipulate policies on:

  • Branding.
  • Vehicle, float and marching safety.
  • Mandatory attendance at an information session for all organizers. 

All applicants, including Toronto police, have to agree to these rules during the application process. 

The 2019 parade will take place on June 23. 

Police banned in 2017

Police presence at the parade emerged as a contentious issue in 2016.

Activists with the local chapter of Black Lives Matter disrupted the march, in part demanding that uniformed officers no longer be in it because their presence could discourage marginalized communities from participating. 

Mark Blinch/Canadian Press

The issue was thrust under the spotlight again in January last year, when Pride Toronto adopted a list of demands issued by Black Lives Matter that included banning police floats from the parade.

The following month, Chief Mark Saunders announced the force would not be participating in the 2017 event, marking the first time police didn't march in it in 16 years. 

The McArthur factor

In fall 2017, the investigation into alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur widened the schism between LGBTQ residents and police, despite closed-door talks with Pride Toronto to help improve the relationship.

McArthur, a 66-year-old self-employed landscaper, has been charged with eight counts of first-degree murder in connection with the disappearances of eight men, many with ties to the Gay Village. 

Bruce McArthur/Facebook

News of his arrest on Jan. 18 came little more than a month after Saunders said publicly there was no evidence to suggest a serial killer was linked to the disappearance of gay men. 

Five of his alleged victims were subjects of two separate missing persons task forces established by Toronto police.

Nuamah has credited to McArthur investigation to the re-emergence of a "feeling of a lack of safety" for many LGBTQ residents.

She noted that some community members felt concerns about the disappearances of men — alongside a missing person-turned homicide case of Tess Richey, and Alloura Wells, a transgender woman whose body was found months after she vanished — were downplayed or outright ignored by investigators. 

While the parade, a typically colourful celebration was followed by a sea of people wearing black to commemorate the alleged victims of McArthur and LGBTQ victims of violence last year. A moment of silence was held. 

'New understanding'

Pride Toronto explained Tuesday while the move to invite uniformed officers might "feel premature" and stir controversy in the LGBTQ community, its leadership is "heartened" that police brass have taken steps to awaken a "new understanding and active commitment."

Mark Blinch/Canadian Press

"The critical conversations that have been started will continue, fostered through the work of organizations in our community that we trust," the organization said in a statement obtained by CBC Toronto. 

40% of Toronto voters support decision: poll 

More than half of Torontonians who filled out CBC Toronto's Vote Compass during this election season appear to agree with Pride Toronto's latest moved involving police.

Some 40 per cent strongly agree with the idea of uniformed officers marching in the annual parade, while 19 per cent agree with the move and 17 per cent are neutral.

However, 13 per cent of respondents — mostly comprised of those aged 18-34 — are strongly opposed to the idea.

Nearly three-quarters of those who said their intention to vote for Tory also support having uniformed officers in the parade. On the other hand, 54 per cent of mayoral candidate Saron Gebresellassi's voters strongly disagree.

These findings are based on 11,982 respondents who used Vote Compass in early October. The respondents are part of a non-random sample from the population and have been weighted in order to approximate a representative sample.