2012 Villain: James Pasternak and Other QuAIA Alarmists
Nominated for: undermining Pride Toronto, and Toronto's commitment to diversity.
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. From December 10 to 19, we’ll unveil the nominees, grouped by category. Vote for your favourites from each batch, every single day! On December 19 and 20 the winners from each category go head-to-head in the final round of voting, and on December 21, we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
Since his election in 2010, James Pasternak (Ward 10, York Centre) has been sounding the alarm about Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, a small protest group that has been showing up periodically at the Pride events, attempting to draw attention to the plight of Palestinians living under Israeli rule. He hasn’t just done this by condemning that group directly, however: he decided to make Pride itself the target. In a series of requests and motions at City Hall, and with the support of several of his colleagues, Pasternak has been trying to make Pride’s annual funding grant from the City contingent on the non-appearance of QuAIA.
Some starting principles. No group should be victimized by discrimination, and no group should be immune from the consequences if they violate anti-discrimination policies. Certainly it’s reasonable for the government to withhold grants from any group that does so.
Here’s the thing: no group in this situation has.
As a result of concerns regarding QuAIA, the City of Toronto reviewed its anti-discrimination policies, and staff proposed some updates to them. According to both the original and new versions, the phrase “Israeli Apartheid” does not violate any provisions. It is hurtful to some. It is—and is meant to be—inflammatory. But it is not hate speech. It does not reflect animosity to a group of people because of their identity but to a policy, because of its consequences.
That didn’t stop the executive committee from passing a motion in September, asking City staff to report back on the viability of making Pride’s 2013 funding contingent on “Israeli Apartheid” not appearing at the event. That is, a certain number of councillors are willing to make Pride vulnerable because a separate, outside organization has violated not our policies but their sensibilities. As we wrote earlier this year:
If council votes to defer Pride’s funding, to make it contingent on the appearance, or not, of QuAIA, the message it sends to Pride—and by extension to Toronto’s LGBTQ community—is that its role in the city, its place in the city, its participation in the life of the city, is likewise contingent, not on compliance with a set of well-founded principles but on on ad hoc exception created because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a mess and we’re not particularly good at talking about it. It privileges one group’s sense of belonging and acceptance over another’s.
We are not required to support community groups at any cost, but if that support is to have any real value we cannot decide to withdraw it at the first sign of tension, either. Threatening Pride’s funding on the basis of what amounts to hurt feelings, with no violation of any principle anyone has been able to point to, is a grossly disproportionate response that belies Toronto’s claim to be a city that champions diversity. It opens the door to other ideological litmus tests for cultural and community groups. And it fails to properly acknowledge the importance of Pride to Toronto.
See the other nominees in the Dividers category:
Using her position to deride instead of reason.
An astonishingly tone-deaf response to a tragic death.
Treating her colleagues like wayward schoolchildren.
|Unsubstantiated “Safety Concerns”
Using race as an indicator of crime.
Homophobic slurs and frustrating non-apologies.
Trying to turn an already divided house even more against itself.