City Council Reaffirms Support for Pride Toronto, Condemns Term "Israeli Apartheid"
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City Council Reaffirms Support for Pride Toronto, Condemns Term “Israeli Apartheid”

Compromise motion resolves conflict around Queers Against Israeli Apartheid's participation in the Pride parade, at least for the moment.

The rainbow flag at Toronto City Hall.

Though the buildup to today’s debate about whether to grant Pride Toronto its annual funding was long, the debate itself proved brief. James Pasternak (Ward 10, York Centre), concerned about the participation of protest group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid in the Pride parade, had initially suggested that council should defer funding until after the parade, and make it contingent on QuAIA being kept out—earlier this week he told us he planned to move a motion to that effect. A compromise was developed among councillors over the past few days, however, and today no such motion materialized. Instead, council voted to

reaffirm its recognition of Pride Toronto as a significant cultural event that strongly promotes the ideals of tolerance and diversity, but condemn the use of the term ‘Israeli Apartheid’ which undermines these values and also diminishes the suffering experienced by individuals during the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

“The real, real battleground is revising the anti-discrimination policy,” said Pasternak just after the vote was taken. Those revisions, he hopes, will preclude the term “Israeli Apartheid” figuring in future debates at City Hall, by rendering it in clear violation of a new anti-discrimination policy. Last year, City staff researched the subject and concluded that “Israeli Apartheid” did not violate the existing policy, triggering a request for revisions to it. Those proposed revisions came from staff within the past week, however, and they contain no specific mention of the term nor any clauses that seem to render it discriminatory.

When asked whether or how council could ensure that “Israeli Apartheid” was specifically captured by an anti-discrimination policy, Pasternak said he believed that it would be covered if the policy looked at the “intention and phraseology” in language use. (He maintains that “Israeli Apartheid” is a term that promotes hatred.) “We don’t want world conflicts here; people come here to avoid world conflicts,” he added.

Judging intent is, of course, very tricky territory: as soon as he made those remarks, reporters immediately began asking Pasternak if this was leading down to road the censorship. If the City denies a cultural organization funding it would otherwise receive any time material (even if not directly commissioned by the organization) offends another group in the city, have we gone too far? He denied that he was advocating for such restrictions, maintaining that the City’s mandate was to fund cultural organizations, not “demonstrations.”

Pride Toronto, along with other major cultural organizations, did receive its funding today; after passing the above motion councillors passed the grant allocations unanimously. Notably, that funding is not contingent: Pride will get it whether or not QuAIA shows up. It will take a bit of time though, to see whether the issue has been put to rest.