'There is a whole lot more work to be done,' Saunders says while raising Pride flag at police headquarters
Published Tuesday, June 4, 2019 11:38AM EDT Last Updated Tuesday, June 4, 2019 2:22PM EDT
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said the service’s relationship with the LGBTQ+ community remains a “work in progress” while raising the Pride flag at headquarters on Tuesday morning.
The ceremony comes as Toronto celebrates Pride month, which began on June 1.
“Even though this is the month of June where we do celebrate Pride, each and every day of the year we are continuously at meetings, we are continuously at conferences, we are continuously talking with committees to try to figure out what we need to do to be stronger and better and enhance those relationships,” Saunders said.
The push for change comes amid uniformed police officers being barred from participating in the city’s Pride Parade again this year.
The decision was made after members of Pride Toronto voted 163-161 on the matter back in January.
“What this vote has told us is we need to better understand what this community feels about police services and how they feel it negatively impacts their lives and so that’s what we’re going to try to do,” executive director of Pride Toronto Olivia Nuamah told The Canadian Press at the time of the close vote.
A $1.25-million federal grant is being used to fully examine the feelings the LGBTQ+ community has towards police, she said.
“We are going to use this award we received to map out what that reconciliation process might look like.”
At the time, Toronto Mayor John Tory called the vote “deeply disappointing,” while Saunders said he believes the relationship is improving.
On Tuesday, Saunders said raising the rainbow flag at police headquarters in downtown Toronto “really makes a statement.”
“That statement is that as Torontonians and as members of the Toronto Police Service, sworn in and civilian, we know that if we are going to get it right it is through inclusion,” he said.
“Inclusion is what helps us become stronger. Inclusion is what helps make this city the greatest city to live in.”
Saunders added that “it’s safe to say that there is a whole lot more work to be done” in terms of building a stronger relationship between the police service and the LGBTQ+ community in Toronto.
Along with uniformed officers not appearing at this year’s parade, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he will also not be in attendance.
In a statement, the premier’s office said Ford’s attendance at the parade was contingent on whether or not uniformed police officers were allowed to participate.
“Premier Ford has always said he will attend Toronto’s Pride Parade when our front-line police officers are allowed to participate in uniform,” the statement read. “He wishes all the organizers of Pride Toronto all the best for a successful month and festival weekend.”
When asked about Ford skipping out on the parade this year, Saunders said the premier’s relationship with law enforcement has always been “very strong,” but would not comment any further on his decision.
At around noon on Tuesday, Tory raised the Pride and transgender flags at City Hall among city councillors and representatives of Pride Toronto.
“I say that diversity is a fact in this city but inclusiveness is a goal that we have and this is a goal that we have that is fundamental to us and it is fundamental at the same time as we acknowledge the goal and we acknowledge that there are far too many people who are experiencing discrimination and intolerance and hat in the city,” he said.
“That is one of the many reasons that proclaiming a Pride month and this flag raising are necessary, as well as being enjoyable, celebratory events, they are necessary events that provide a statement to who we are in our city.”
The Toronto Pride Parade is scheduled to take place on June 23.