Pride Toronto has voted to no longer allow uniformed police officers to have a float or march in the city’s pride parade.
At Pride Toronto’s Annual General Meeting earlier this week, a majority of the organisation’s members voted in favour of a list of demands made by the local branch of anti-racism activist group Black Lives Matter.
Last July, members of the group briefly stalled the 2016 parade with a sit-in, during which they made the demands that included the ban on police participation, the hiring of more people from vulnerable communities and more funding for queer black youth, local outlets City News and Global News reported.
Pride Toronto board member Sarah Cooper told City News: “What we don’t want to see and what the community made very clear last night was no advertent police presence during the parade … It’s our responsibility to adhere to that.”
But she added that “queer police officers and trans police officers can march under the banner of community groups,” but couldn’t have their own floats or contingents at the annual event.
Black Lives Matter Toronto co-founder Janaya Khan told Vice: “We’ve made it very clear that we challenge the police floats and booths because [for] communities of colour, the presence of police makes people very unsafe and very uncomfortable.”
Co-founder Alexandria Williams added: “The glorification of police at Pride is just completely irresponsible and disrespectful to a community that has been heavily policed, heavily controlled, experienced an extreme amount of violence by this force.”
The decision sparked fierce debate, with posts on the organisation’s Facebook page inundated with hundreds of comments for and against the ban.
A Change.org petition calling for the ban to be overturned had attracted more than 2,300 signatures on Thursday.
Toronto police spokesperson Mark Pugash told CityNews police needed clarification about the vote but it wouldn’t change their commitment to protecting the safety of parade patrons.
“It’s our most important job and we are never going to compromise that,” he said.
“We are very actively involved in building relationships, we’ve come a long way. We still have a lot more to do, but we think inclusion is much more important than exclusion.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory called for a resolution, saying police involvement in the parade stretched back a decade and they “continue to make meaningful efforts to build bridges” with the LGBTI community.