TORONTO — Shocked but undeterred by the weekend massacre in Florida, organizers of Toronto’s gay pride festivities pledged on Monday the show would go on amid increased security and a determination to highlight the community’s strength.
The horrific events in Orlando will certainly be in the back of people’s minds, said Mathieu Chantelois, executive director of Pride Toronto, but that won’t change what’s already been planned.
“We will march, we will rally, we will talk about human rights. We will have the biggest parade ever. We will dance in the streets and we will dance in the clubs,” Chantelois said.
Pride organizers met representatives of the RCMP, city police and the prime minister’s office on Monday to discuss security concerns. While Chantelois refused to comment on any specifics, observers said more uniformed police would be on hand, but more plainclothes officers and others would both mingle with, and keep watch on, the crowds.
Chantelois called it a blessing that Justin Trudeau is slated to be the first sitting prime minister to take part in the parade – which takes place on July 3 and will feature a minute of silence for the Orlando victims – because of the security expertise the RCMP will bring with him.
Ross McLean, a former Toronto police officer and crime specialist, said the Florida mass shooting will undoubtedly raise the vigilance levels of security agencies.
“Whenever you’re dealing with terror issues, it’s intelligence that really is what saves you; it’s not the responding to it,” McLean said.
“They’re going to be watching and looking at the threat level and the chatter from the people they have on their watch lists.”
The main safety challenge is the diversity of those who might be motivated to attack the activities – ranging from the organized and committed terrorist to the mentally unstable. However, the likeliest threat, experts said, is that posed by an attention-seeking copy cats rather than groups such as the Islamic State.
In addition, the capability for a loner to cause disproportionate destruction has increased in recent years, with home-made bombs, for example, relatively easy to assemble and plant.
“The timeline has really collapsed,” said Ray Boisvert, a former assistant director with Canada’s intelligence service and now a security consultant.
“People quickly mobilize. They go from thinking about something to suddenly doing something.”
In Ottawa, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said the massacre demonstrates the vulnerability of a democratic society to “lone-wolf actors” and those inspired by the ISIL message.
“It sort of reinforces the need to be engaged and active in community-based prevention efforts, counter-radicalization and so on,” Paulson said.
“My staff have been looking at the Orlando situation and assessing what the implications for Canada are.”
Const. Danelle Botttineau said she didn’t think the threat level in Toronto had changed as a result of the nightclub massacre but said police were “continually assessing and looking at our game plan” to ensure security.
Regardless of any specific risk change, Boisvert said, authorities have to act responsibly and do what they can to ensure public safety in light of the attack.
The best defence, he said, is having an alert population which reports potential threats and is aware of surroundings at public events.
“People know when people in their circles are acting weird,” Boisvert said. “Sometimes you do have to be your brother’s keeper and your sister’s keeper.”
In the interim, Chantelois said, the Florida killings have focused attention on the ongoing and almost routine risk the LGBTQ community faces. He regularly receives hate mail and warnings, he said.
Still, the attack on the Florida nightclub has hit hard.
“Clubs for the queer community are a place where normally we feel we are safe,” Chantelois said.
“So the threat is there but we will not let fear get in the way of what we do. We want people to get out. To march with us. To dance with us. We have to be strong as a community. We have to be visible.”