Toronto police will be withdrawing their application to march in June’s Pride Parade in light of concerns voiced in an open letter by Pride Toronto and other community groups.
Chief Mark Saunders said in a statement released Tuesday that he hopes the withdrawal “will be received as a concrete example of the fact that I am listening closely to the community’s concerns and I am committed thoroughly to building a better, stronger relationship between us.”
The letter, which was addressed to the “LGBTQ2S communities and the broader community of Toronto” cited the loss of seven community members, allegedly at the hands of accused serial killer Bruce McArthur, as part of the reason for the request.
“It is an incredibly complex and difficult time. The arrest of Bruce McArthur, the alleged serial killer, has added a new poignancy and a new pain to the fears that sit at the heart of anyone who lives a life of difference,” the letter read.
“At the end of June, we will come together as we have for decades and we will be seen. We will rally and rise, but it will be with heavy hearts as we have not yet begun to grapple with our anger, shock, and grief.”
Toronto police officers were banned from attending the parade in uniform last year. They also weren’t allowed to march with weapons, cruisers or police floats. But police had been hopeful after talks between officers and Pride Toronto had continued since last summer.
“I certainly came into the position very optimistic that they could have been a part of the parade this year,” Pride Toronto executive director Olivia Nuamah said.
“That would have continued to be the case were it not for the kind of series of events that took place in the course of about eight months.”
Saunders said he knows that a lot more work is needed but that “hopefully this moment moves us forward in an important way.”
“I strongly believe that we should be working toward a time when this issue is no longer a point of controversy and where the participation of our members in the Pride Parade is accepted and welcomed,” he said.
Saunders said that the Toronto Police Service will continue to work to strengthen and renew the relationship between them and the LGBTQ2S community.
Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack called the situation a setback and compared it to the narrative of last year when police were removed from participating.
If there were no concerns regarding the McArthur investigation, McCormack believes the outcome would be different.
He said there is “dialogue and work to be done” and that they are aware that the relationship between the TPS and LGBTQ2S isn’t perfect.
“My concern is that OK, now it’s derailed again, is it going to make the relationship worse? And what I’m looking for are things that are going to make that relationship better, the narrative, the dialogue and how we improve the relationship.”
He said officers, as well as supporters, are disappointed they will not be participating again.
Meanwhile, Toronto’s mayor said he was “heartened” that police and community groups seemed to be communicating.
“I’m optimistic that’s going to bear fruit going forward and be a better, longer lasting, more meaningful answer to this than if we’d just been able to say that police are back in the parade,” John Tory said.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said she, too, was hopeful that police would improve relations with the LGBTQ community.
“I truly hope that there can be a good discussion between Pride and the police services so that that relationship can be healed,” she said. “But I do understand with all the things that have happened over the last year that it’s a strained relationship right now.”
The 38th annual Pride Parade takes place on June 24.
—With files from Kamil Karamali and The Canadian Press