Push to bar po­lice from pride march di­vides LGBTQ

National Post (National Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - GRAEME HAMIL­TON

Cal­gary has joined a grow­ing list of Cana­dian cities where pride pa­rade or­ga­niz­ers are telling po­lice of­fi­cers who want to march that they are not wel­come in uni­form.

The new pol­icy is an ac­knowl­edge­ment of “the his­tor­i­cal op­pres­sion and in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized racism faced by queer/trans peo­ple of colour and Indige­nous per­sons, and the po­ten­tially neg­a­tive as­so­ci­a­tion with weapons, uni­forms, and other sym­bols of law en­force­ment,” Cal­gary Pride said in a state­ment Wed­nes­day.

Re­spond­ing to a de­mand that be­gan last year in Toronto with Black Lives Mat­ter, pride or­ga­niz­ers in Toronto, Ot­tawa, Van­cou­ver and Hal­i­fax have this year sought to as­suage those who see the po­lice as op­pres­sors.

But the move is prov­ing di­vi­sive within the LGBTQ com­mu­nity, where many mem­bers fear ex­clud­ing of­fi­cers will un­der­mine years of work build­ing bridges with po­lice forces.

“For those of us who are older and were part of that first gen­er­a­tion to come out, at some cost, we grew up in an era where peo­ple were barred, lost their homes, jobs, were sub­jected fairly reg­u­larly to beat­ings, and where the po­lice were not our friends,” Sean Bick­er­ton, a Van­cou­ver gay ac­tivist, said in an in­ter­view Thurs­day.

“So a lot of peo­ple worked very hard to build re­la­tion­ships, and to build trust with the law en­force­ment and the jus­tice com­mu­nity.… To see that thrown away is for us who come from that gen­er­a­tion a tragic er­ror in strat­egy, and it flies in the face of the way that we gained ac­cep­tance in so­ci­ety.”

The cold shoul­der has of­fended straight of­fi­cers, who thought march­ing in the pa­rades sig­nalled their en­light­en­ment, and LGBTQ of­fi­cers proud to be able to pa­rade their iden­tity.

“We are ob­vi­ously dis­ap­pointed with the de­ci­sion that po­lice will not be al­lowed to march in uni­form, but we are not go­ing to al­low it to undo decades of progress be­tween law en­force­ment and the LGBTQ* com­mu­nity in Cal­gary,” Po­lice Chief Roger Chaf­fin said in a state­ment Wed­nes­day. “We have a far bet­ter re­la­tion­ship with the LGBTQ* com­mu­nity now than we did even 10 years ago, and we want to keep that for­ward mo­men­tum.”

(The as­ter­isk makes spe­cial note in an ef­fort to in­clude all trans­gen­der, non­bi­nary, and gen­der non­con­form­ing iden­ti­ties.)

In Ot­tawa, the po­lice chief has not been so con­cil­ia­tory. Last month, Ot­tawa’s Cap­i­tal Pride re­quested that off­duty po­lice of­fi­cers not wear their uni­forms at the Aug. 27 pa­rade. Or­ga­niz­ers said they sup­port the pres­ence of LGBTQ of­fi­cers “and their al­lies” in the pa­rade. “How­ever it is of prime im­por­tance to us that every­one feels safe at Pride,” they said, in par­tic­u­lar youth, racial mi­nori­ties and Indige­nous com­mu­nity mem­bers.

Ot­tawa Po­lice Chief Charles Borde­leau re­sponded by an­nounc­ing that the force would not have a float or a ve­hi­cle in the pa­rade and that off-duty of­fi­cers would have the choice to wear their uni­forms as they marched.

“We are proud of our uni­form, and it is part of our iden­tity — it’s who we are and how we serve the com­mu­nity,” he said. He later con­firmed on Twit­ter that he in­tends to march in his uni­form.

Alex Lewis, a gay po­lice con­sta­ble who lives in Ot­tawa and works in north­ern On­tario, wrote on Face­book of his dis­ap­point­ment that he was not wel­come to par­tic­i­pate in uni­form.

“The irony in this, of course, is that while Cap­i­tal Pride ex­pects po­lice of­fi­cers to stand on the side­lines pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity for their event, the of­fi­cers who choose to march with them, and are in fact their strongest al­lies, are not wel­come to cel­e­brate this year,” he wrote.

He said he pic­tured march­ing with his hus­band and their daugh­ter, with­out any­one bat­ting an eye. “I could tell her how much the world has changed. But alas, Cap­i­tal Pride, you just proved that it hasn’t,” he wrote.

The move to ex­clude uni­formed of­fi­cers be­gan in Toronto af­ter Black Lives Mat­ters pro­test­ers blocked last year’s pride pa­rade and de­manded an end to the pres­ence of po­lice floats and uni­formed marchers.

The Van­cou­ver Pride So­ci­ety an­nounced in May that it was fol­low­ing suit, re­strict­ing po­lice of­fi­cers to a city of Van­cou­ver en­try and spec­i­fy­ing that only 20 per cent of par­tic­i­pat­ing of­fices can be in uni­form. In Hal­i­fax, the po­lice force de­cided in May to bow out of the pa­rade, which was held last week­end.

In St. John’s, the Pride com­mit­tee re­versed a de­ci­sion to ex­clude uni­formed po­lice of­fi­cers from its pa­rade. “The pa­rade is to be open for all to ex­press their iden­tity in what­ever means they deem rep­re­sen­ta­tive,” the com­mit­tee wrote. “This in­cludes the pos­si­bil­ity that uni­forms, in any ca­pac­ity, rep­re­sent an iden­tity im­por­tant to an in­di­vid­ual.”

In Van­cou­ver, Bick­er­ton has cho­sen not to march in a pa­rade that excludes po­lice. He is hope­ful the cur­rent trend to shun po­lice will be short-lived.

The Cal­gary Po­lice Ser­vice par­tic­i­pates in the Pride Pa­rade in down­town Cal­gary in 2014. LYLE ASPINALL / POST­MEDIA NEWS FILES

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