London police have confirmed that the Pride flag will still be raised at police headquarters, despite a request from the Pride London Festival to refrain from flying the flag this year.
The statement follows a letter from Pride London Festival made public on July 13 but dated July 10, announcing that it stands with Black Lives Matter London and asking that police not fly the Pride flag this Friday at police headquarters.
Speaking with Global News Monday morning, roughly six hours before the statement from police was made public, Pride London president Andrew Rosser said he hoped that police would respect the decision.
“I do know in other communities, this request has been made and basically ignored,” Rosser said Monday morning.
The statement from the London Police Service (LPS) and London Police Services Board (LPSB) says they “stand united in support of the greater LGBTQ2+ community” and “acknowledge the request from Pride London Festival’s Board of Directors” and “understand their reasons for it.”
“While we take these concerns seriously, we also believe we owe it to our employees and the community to show our unwavering commitment to the LGBT2Q+, even as we acknowledge the work that needs to be done,” said Chief Steve Williams.
“We believe in what the flag represents. We will raise the flag to remind us that battles for equality have not come easily, and we must do our part.”
LPSB chair Dr. Javeed Sukhera says the board acknowledges work is needed to “address the issue of systemic racism and improve equity and justice for community members.”
“We are committed to change, constructive dialogue, meaningful engagement, and working together. We welcome dialogue with members of the Pride London Festival Board, with Black Lives Matter, or any organization that is willing to work with us to address systemic racism.”
Relationships between Pride organizations and police forces across Canada have had significant conflict, most notably in recent years regarding decisions by Pride organizations to bar officers from marching in uniform at Pride parades.
Most recently, Pride Hamilton has filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario against the Hamilton Police Service and the City of Hamilton. The application, which was filed last month, alleges police discriminated against the organization by failing to protect Pride-goers from violence at the Hamilton Pride festival at Gage Park on June 15, 2019. An independent review of the police response to Pride 2019 determined that police response was “inadequate” in dealing with violence before, during and after it unfolded.
In 2018, Pride London barred uniformed police officers from marching in its parade — however, officers were able to take part out of uniform. At that time, officials said the decision was made in an effort to make the festival more inclusive after hearing from Black, Indigenous and individuals of colour who expressed that seeing a large presence of police in uniform was a deterrent.
In 2016, Black Lives Matter halted the Toronto Pride Parade, demanding that uniformed police, their floats and their cruisers be excluded. The group cited tensions between the force and Black citizens arising from racial profiling as among the reasons for their demands. Pride organizers agreed for the next two years to exclude uniformed officers on-duty from marching in the parade and voted again in 2019 to indefinitely bar uniformed officers from taking part in the parade.
When asked for comment in reaction to the statement from police, Rosser told Global News that he would be providing a statement at a later time.
— with files from Liam Casey with The Canadian Press and Lisa Polewski with Global News.