Will the complaint against Black Lives Matter Toronto go anywhere?
One of the individuals who helped draft Pride Toronto’s dispute resolution process hopes to use it to ban Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) from the parade.
Human rights lawyer and Pride Toronto lifetime achievement award-winner Douglas Elliot took to the airwaves earlier this month to voice his frustrations with BLMTO’s sit-in, along with his intent to send an official objection.
“I think it is the most reprehensible thing I have seen. I’ve been at every parade since 1981, and it is the most disgusting interruption of the pride parade,” Elliot said in an AM640 interview. “The homophobes have treated us better than these people did … I am going to be filing a complaint with our dispute resolution process, and ask these people excluded from any further participation.”
Elliott, who helped pave the way for same sex marriage legislation in 2005, also played a role on Pride Toronto’s community advisory panel. Along with Reverend Brent Hawkes and 519 community centre director Maury Lawless, he helped initiate Pride Toronto’s first ever mandate related to complaints in response to public controversy over the now defunct community group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) in 2010.
The dispute resolution process (DRP), which Elliott was once chair of, has stopped the likes of men’s rights group Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) from marching, with the objective of neutral decision-making based on Pride Toronto’s terms and conditions and the 1991 Arbitration Act.
But the precedent from the QuAIA case shows that if a complaint calls for a ban of BLMTO from the parade it can take years to settle. Even then, the exclusion can be reversed or various other workarounds could allow members to march anyway.
How the Process Works
The DRP only activates when someone files a complaint with Pride Toronto on the inclusion or exclusion of a participant in the parade.
Information about the process is not readily available on Pride Toronto’s website, but can be found via external search results. The current version remains unchanged from 2012’s dispute resolution policy. Complaints were once made using an official form, which has been removed from Pride’s site. A version of the complaint form can be viewed here [PDF].
Now, all complaints can be made by contacting Pride Toronto and emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once Pride Toronto receives the complaint—and given that it clearly outlines pertinent Pride Toronto policy violations—a dispute resolution officer is put in charge of the case. Officers are chosen based on their good standing with the Law Society of Upper Canada, or previous work in human rights issues, or mediation. The officer can call off any action in response to a complaint if they find the complaint was made maliciously, without serious intent, or if it falls outside what Pride Toronto is capable of doing. Should a complaint be complex enough to warrant further review, a panel of officers are assigned to the case.
The stakeholders of the complaint will be contacted immediately, and have seven days to respond to the conflict resolution process.
Complainants have three routes they can go down: corrective action, mediation, or arbitration, with corrective action falling under Pride Toronto’s executive director Mathieu Chantelois’s jurisdiction.
Mediation between the complainant and the other party must be finished within 30 days, unless both sides say they need more time, in which case it can go on indefinitely.
Arbitration, conducted by an independent third party, can take up to 21 days. The arbitrator has up to 14 days afterwards to make a decision.
In order to be valid, complaints must be filed within 30 days after the parade or from the time the incident involving the aforementioned participant occurred.
Although multiple complaints can be placed, rulings are final unless appealed by the complainant.
Based on previous complaints, Pride Toronto appears to factor public reaction into its decisions.
QuAIA, which first started marching in 2008, was prohibited by Pride’s board from appearing in the parade in May 2010. The ban placed against QuAIA was lifted one month later, after 400 protesters rallied at Pride Toronto’s offices. This reversal of this ban, of which Elliott was a part of, resulted in the organization setting up a volunteer-run community advisory panel.
After several months of public meetings, the panel released 133 recommendations to Pride in 2011. Among them was the request for DRP’s inception.
The DRP was hotly contested. Queer Ontario called for Pride Toronto to dismantle the “quasi-legal” process in 2012, citing that the panel was mostly comprised of lawyers like Elliott who had publicly stood against QuAIA. As well, Queer Ontario opposed the DRP because rulings could be ignored if a party chose not to take part in it.
How A Complaint Could Affect BLMTO
Once a complaint is made against BLMTO, the timed responses in accordance to the DRP will be initiated.
However, these deadlines are loosely enforced, with the document outlining them stating that they can be adjusted depending on the case. Like QuAIA, which was the recipient of multiple complaints, any against BLMTO can take months or years to finally be resolved.
Alternatively, a decision can be made quickly. CAFE advisory board member Barbara Kay wrote in a National Post column that CAFE received notice it was banned just 24 hours after executive director Justin Trottier acknowledged the DRP’s notice of 14 complaints.
Not all complaints are go through the full process. Local blogger Joe Clark, who has filed complaints against QuAIA, sent a complaint in 2015 against TD Bank for transphobic policies. His complaint was never responded to [PDF].
If an outcome isn’t decided before 2017’s march, BLMTO would still be able to attend.
In a pointed move responding to BLMTO’s demands, Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore) put forward a now withdrawn motion for City Council to declare its support for police involvement in Pride, which had been seconded by Councillor and former cop Jon Burnside (Ward 26, Don Valley West)
But officially Council’s motions have a limited effect on any particular resolution.
Although City Council has condemned the phrase “Israeli Apartheid,” the decision ultimately did not affect QuAIA’s status.
“Because it’s a legal process, [the City’s condemnation] would go into the category of evidence, as opposed to a legal ruling,” Elliott told Xtra in 2012. “A decision by city council is not a judicial ruling. It’s the opinion of city council.”
If a complaint were to successfully get BLMTO banned, it might not last long. Pride Toronto has previously backtracked in response to public pressure. Pride Toronto went back on its QuAIA ban after many protests at its headquarters and 23 award recipients returned their awards, including human rights advocate El-Farouk Khaki and urbanist Jane Farrow.
As well, a ban on BLMTO as a float would not ban its individual members from attending Pride, which they can do by marching with other groups.
QuAIA was also able to make its presence known at Pride without marching. After choosing not to march in response to City Council threats to withdraw Pride Toronto’s funding, the group dropped a banner on the side of Wellesley station, which is close to the march route.
While decisions made by the DRP are final, complaints against BLMTO would need to prove the group breached the terms and conditions they signed. Then it would be up to Pride Toronto to take action. From there, it’s hard to say how long it would take or exactly what Pride Toronto would choose to do, if it even chose to acknowledge them at all. Public scrutiny and community accountability, such as what will be facilitated at Pride Toronto’s public town hall in August, will likely play a role in how Pride Toronto’s DRP officers handle complaints.
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