Toronto Council Gearing Up For Another Battle Over Pride Funding
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Toronto Council Gearing Up For Another Battle Over Pride Funding

Straight politicians keep trying to dictate to Pride who should be welcome at the parade.


Councillor John Campbell says he’s moving forward with a motion to have the city pull Pride Toronto’s funding. (Right) Newlyweds Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and Farrah Khan at Pride 2016. Photo via Twitter.

Toronto Councillor John Campbell’s (Ward 4, Etobicoke Centre) much-anticipated motion is expected to hit the Council floor next week. His proposal would force Pride to include a contingent of armed, uniformed police to march in the parade, or risk losing City funding.

“From the City of Toronto perspective, I don’t feel that we should be giving public money to an organization that is expressly excluding some of our employees,” he said.

To illustrate his point, the councillor went on to raise a hypothetical situation where the Toronto Symphony Orchestra might arbitrarily forbid the fire department from attending its events—presuming, of course, that the Toronto fire department has a pattern of physically assaulting orchestra players, parallel to the history of homophobic and racist policing in Toronto.

Campbell acknowledged that there have been a number of high-profile incidents of bad behaviour from the Toronto Police. He noted that those incidents—from the Bathhouse Raids, to the death of Sammy Yatim, to the murders of Jermaine Carby and Andrew Loku, to the highly public serophobic comments made during the arrest of a Black man—took place far away from when and where he was elected.

Nonetheless, Campbell was quick to support policies like carding, a racial profiling practice that has been widely decried as unlawful and unconstitutional, though Mayor John Tory claims that the City has no power to defang it. And though Campbell believes that banning uniformed police floats from the Pride Parade was a deal-breaking act of exclusion, he could not speak to any efforts from the Toronto Police Services to improve its relationships with the Black and LGBTQ communities. When pressed on the subject, he abruptly ended our conversation.

We spoke just before May 8, when the Economic Development Committee voted unanimously to continue giving Pride Toronto their standard $260,000 grant.

This should not have been newsworthy. Pride Toronto receives a comparatively low annual grant from the City considering the size and scope of the festival, and City Council rarely makes a habit of jeopardizing events that consistently draw so much tourism, spending, and excitement to Toronto.

The threat facing Pride is just among a number of cuts proposed by the budgeting committee on which Campbell sits, including cuts to several anti-poverty agencies and homeless shelters. For the first time in years, the Toronto Police Services budget was slightly reduced, though falling short of the 2.6 per cent cuts that Council demanded from all City services at a 2016 budgetary meeting. In order to hit that goal, the Toronto Police Services would need to cut an additional $24 million from the over $1 billion in funding they currently receive from the City.

But in the midst of threats to de-fund the LGBTQ non-profit from a group of conservative councillors, this small victory was a meaningful one.

For weeks, Campbell has been trying to rally support on City Council to deny Pride their grant in retaliation for the decision to disinvite uniformed police contingent and floats from marching in the parade.

The decision came as result of the demands presented by Black Lives Matter Toronto during the 2016 parade. Following months of public consultations, Pride Toronto members voted in favour of the demands at the annual general meeting in January, which were then ratified by the Pride board of directors.

Since then, the Toronto Police Services and the Toronto Police Association have been ramping up public pressure. Claiming that the vote at Pride was a discriminatory motion from out of the blue, Campbell has joined them in gearing up for a fight to control the narrative.

So when I spoke to him last week, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. In truth, Campbell didn’t sound particularly aggressive at all. He just sounded like a liberal. His tone was brisk and fatherly; mismatched comparisons or incomplete information abounded.

Campbell has never taken on an issue like this before. He is relatively green on City Council, and represents an Etobicoke ward he describes as “not particularly dynamic.” He also admits that neither he nor his constituents have much of a stake in this issue.

In contrast, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) is in a very different boat; she is the first out lesbian to sit on City Council, and has made it a priority to mobilize local support for Pride.

In her view, the efforts to de-fund Pride fly in the face of ongoing conversations between Pride Toronto, the broader LGBTQ community, and other political groups in the city; she’s worried that Campbell’s proposal will have the exact opposite effect from his intention. “It’s important that they keep the door open. De-funding Pride is the worst possible message that you can send to the LGBT community,” said Wong-Tam. “It will set relations back by decades.”

She noted that, given that the community is “hyper-diverse,” we ought to expect disagreement and debate of the kind that for years has been taking place both within and beyond Pride about the role of police, corporate sponsors, and colonial narratives. “Unfortunately, the important conversations about providing a safe space and accommodations for people who feel targeted by the police are being lost.”

I had these conversations at the front of my mind while talking to Campbell. As he tells it, his allegiance to the police is the result of a general position, that city councillors ought to support City employees, and that includes the police.

It’s a remarkably clean-cut and frank point of view, unclouded by inconveniences like an understanding of structural power or institutionalized oppression, or even local queer history. Campbell was conscious of his own highly sanitized reading of these events, but seemed totally untroubled by it. “I can’t speak for the community,” he said. “But I don’t think the community in general is entirely happy with the way events have transpired to exclude the police.”

Even if he wins in this push for de-funding, Campbell doesn’t believe that this will spell the end for Pride Toronto. His recommendation is that they seek more corporate sponsors to make up any lost public funds.

Wong-Tam has been following this and other debates for some time. As she sees it, newcomers to the conversation are bulldozing over an important and ongoing history. “The concerns that Black Lives Matter raised did not happen in a vacuum,” said Wong-Tam. “Anybody who’s actually involved in the local community conversations will know that.”

I asked Campbell about some common themes from conservative councillors past—regional differences, downtown resentment, cutting spending. He shrugged them all off, but was careful to avoid going too far in any direction to alienate moderate support. And when it came to Mayor Tory, Campbell was frank but polite. In short, he sounded electable. Or, more accurately, he sounded like he was trying to sound electable.

Wong-Tam is concerned at what she sees as an air of opportunism that has settled over this entire discussion. “It’s important that we don’t make cheap gestures for political gain,” she said.