After two years Toronto Police officers have been invited to participate in the 2019 Pride Toronto parade in uniform.
The Service withdrew its application to march last year’s Pride parade following concerns by event organizers. For the last two years, Pride Toronto and Toronto Police officers have been meeting to talk candidly about strengthening the relationship between officers and the community and address concerns.
“Pride Toronto has been working diligently with Toronto Police Service over that period to attempt to not only work through the issues that were raised not only on our 2016 parade, but through our conversations with our community and our subsequent GM (general meeting),” said Pride Toronto Executive Director Olivia Nuamah. “In that time, the police service and myself have spoken to the community, have consulted and have begun to work through a process of connecting and engaging with our community.”
Nuamah said her board of directors, as a result of the dialogue, took the decision to permit the police to participate in the parade.
“They have yet to apply, but we are encouraging an application on the basis that it will obviously go through the process all of our organizations go through when applying to participate in our parade,” she said. “But what we wanted to make sure is that we prioritize the work that we are doing together to find solutions to the issues that were raised.”
Chief Mark Saunders said marching in uniform in the Pride Parade is an important event not just as a show of support for LGBTQ+ communities, but as a proud moment for the Service’s LGBTQ+ members.
“We have always said that the parade doesn’t necessarily define our relationship, but it is an important step,” he said. “Standing in front of the cameras really doesn’t represent the tremendous amount of work that has gone in over the last couple of years.”
Mayor John Tory said it is good day for the city.
“Toronto is at its best when we are all working together,” he noted. “As Mayor, the safety of all Toronto residents is a top priority. The murders and disappearances of members of Toronto’s LBGTQ+ community have deeply shaken our city and have led to many unanswered questions that we are working to address to ensure the difficult process of healing can continue.”
Tory said the trust and partnership of community members is extremely important to the ongoing success of Toronto Police Service and its officers.
“Last year, Pride asked the police to withdraw their application to participate in the Pride parade and the Chief listened,” he said. “That’s what good leaders do. They listen and they work to address issues. Police have worked with Pride and other organizations to focus on the objective of unity and restore confidence.
“This is important work and I thank the LGBTQ+ community organizations who are engaged in improving relations with police. I know this work will be ongoing and I will support it as Mayor in any way I can…The City of Toronto will always support Pride and the police and I am thankful for the opportunity I had as being an honest broker between the two.”
The Service has formally celebrated Pride Toronto month celebrations since 2000, and members participate in numerous activities, including the weekend parade that attracts hundreds of thousands of revellers from around the world.
Deputy Chief Barb McLean said the parade is a great way to showcase the diversity of the Toronto Police Service.
“It is important for members of the Service to be visible because we have residents in our city who don’t realize they can be LGBTQ+ and be a member of our Service,” she said. “This is crucial because if you can see it, you can be it. Also, our LGBTQ+ members do a lot of championing both inside and outside our organization for LGBTQ+ issues.”
Toronto Police has been working on maintaining and improving important relationships within the community that have been tested over the past few years.
It has launched a Service-wide LGBTQ+ liaison member program that will see LGBTQ+ identified members’ volunteer to be a resource for colleagues and the community.
The Service has also continued its face-to face meetings with community stakeholders.
Attended by McLean and LGBTQ+ Liaison Officer Constable Danielle Bottineau, the meetings have resulted in meaningful and candid conversations that have helped guide the organization.
The Pride Flag has been raised at police headquarters for the last two years to celebrate Pride Month and the TPS LGBTQ Community Consultative Committee (CCC) has been awarding $1,000 bursaries to LGBTQ youth achieving excellence in the community since 2009.