Police will withdraw request to participate in 2018 Pride Parade, Saunders says
Published Tuesday, April 3, 2018 1:14PM EDT Last Updated Tuesday, April 3, 2018 6:51PM EDT
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders says he will withdraw the service’s application to participate in this year’s Pride parade while police and the LGBTQ community work to remedy the friction between them.
Saunders publicized the decision Tuesday afternoon, less than one day after Pride Toronto and several other groups requested that Toronto police back down on their request.
In a written statement sent to media, Saunders said that while he remains committed to “strengthening and renewing the relationship” between police and the LGBTQ2S community, he is conscious of recent “challenging times” that have put a strain on that reconciliation.
“In light of the concerns expressed in yesterday’s letter to me, I will be withdrawing the application we have made to the organizing committee of the Pride Parade,” he wrote on Tuesday. “My hope is that this move 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. Much more work is needed, of course. But hopefully this moment moves us forward in an important way.”
Last night, Pride Toronto and other groups representing the city’s LGBTQ community said they don’t believe the community’s relationship with police can be “mended through a parade” and called on Saunders to retract his application.
“We recognize steps have been taken to work in collaboration and consultation to understand what we need to be safe. This will not be accomplished in one day,” the written statement reads. “Marching won’t contribute towards solving these issues; they are beyond the reach of symbolic gestures.”
The statement pointed to tensions between police and the community that have grown in the wake of the investigation into alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur.
McArthur was arrested on January 18 and has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder to date, though those charges have not been proven in a court. Police previously denied suggestions from community members that there was a serial killer lurking in the city’s Gay Village.
Pride Toronto also nodded to the disappearances and subsequent deaths of Alloura Wells and Tess Richey as reasons for their concern, saying both cases “speak to the marginalization of our communities and the silencing of our concerns.” In the wake of their deaths, many in the community felt police did not do their due diligence in investigating their missing persons reports.
Toronto police have since launched a dedicated missing persons unit and will conduct as a result of their cases and those allegedly linked to McArthur. A professional standards review is also underway into Wells’ and Richey’s cases.
“The individual stories and lived experiences of each of these people were unique. But what they did share was that the investigations into their disappearances were insufficient, community knowledge and expertise was not accessed and despite the fact that many of us felt and voiced our concerns, we were dismissed,” the groups wrote.
“This has severely shaken our community’s already often tenuous trust in the city’s law enforcement. We feel more vulnerable than ever.”
Pride Toronto’s executive director commended Saunders’ decision on Tuesday and said she considers the development part of an “incredibly positive time” for police and the community as they work together on changing their relationship.
“I think that Chief Saunders says in his statement that he hopes that this is the beginning of the kind of dialogue that we have been asking for, and that he has been so graciously and openly willing to provide to us,” Olivia Nuamah told CP24. “So we are utterly going to take him up on that offer and ensure that this is the springboard to some more meaningful conversations of what change looks like.”
Nuamah said that while the use of an open letter makes her “weary” she hopes the dialogue Saunders is offering will be more personal.
“These are very difficult conversations but they are conversations that both sides have been willing to sit down and engage with,” Nuamah said. “It has come to the point where we are both talking to our LGBTQ public about the fact that we both want to work together and we both want to see change.”
Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack echoed Nuamah on the importance of having a sit-down conversation with members of both parties, but said excluding officers from the parade is “setback.”
“You have to sit down, and that’s what we need, we need people at the table to have these conversations, but I don’t think that this move drives people to the table,” he told CP24. “I don’t think this should be dealt with through letter writing or press release, we have to sit at the table (and) work at this, but we need to stop driving the wedge between the policing and the community.”
McCormack said he believes police have made “monumental improvements” with the LGBTQ community over the past few decades and that Saunders decision puts officers who identify under the LGBTQ spectrum in a difficult position.
“(These officers) are part of not only the policing community, which they’re very proud to be a part of, but also the LGBTQ community,” he said. “They want to be able to express that – the pride of being part of the community and part of policing. We have to get to a point where we move forward in this relationship and I don’t think this is a positive step at all.”
Toronto mayor’s expressed some disappointment to the news on Tuesday, telling reporters at an unrelated event that he hoped the “very productive, very constructive, extensive” discussions between Pride and Toronto police would have helped resolve the matter in time for this year’s event.
Despite this, he said he was “heartened” to see Saunders’ “very open nature” about engaging in continued dialogue with the community.
“But other circumstances arose, tragic circumstances, that deeply affected the feelings of this community and deeply affected some of their perspectives about policing and I think that now what has to happen is for those discussions to continue,” he said.
This year’s Toronto Pride month is scheduled to begin on June 1 with a flag raising ceremony at City Hall. The parade will take place on June 24.
Chief Saunders full statement below:
"On multiple recent occasions, I have expressed my sincere commitment to the cause of strengthening and renewing the relationship between the Toronto Police Service and our city’s LGBTQ2S community. As we have heard from the community itself, we have been through challenging times and it is a personal priority of mine as Chief to build an even more constructive, trusting relationship for the future.
With this very goal in mind, I had hoped to see our civilians and uniformed officers invited back to march in the 2018 Pride Parade. My hope was that it would demonstrate a shared commitment to progress and healing. In particular, I think of the many members of the Toronto Police Service who identify as LGBTQ2S and who wish to meaningfully participate in unity and inclusion.
That being said, I am conscious of the need to avoid any setback that might undermine the principle objective of coming together and restoring confidence. In light of the concerns expressed in yesterday’s letter to me, I will be withdrawing the application we have made to the organizing committee of the Pride Parade. My hope is that this move 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. Much more work is needed, of course. But 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. The Toronto Police Service will work hard over the course of the next year toward that end and, ideally, the 2019 Pride Parade will offer an opportunity to demonstrate that progression."