TORONTO — Toronto City Council has voted to amend its anti-discrimination policy to prohibit groups from receiving funds from the city if they tolerate hate speech or discriminatory behaviour.
The change was spurred by the ongoing controversy surrounding the group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA), which has been accused of hate speech by pro-Israel advocacy groups after having been allowed to march in recent Pride parades by the event’s organizers.
At their July 17 meeting, councillors voted 36-2 in favour of adding provisions to Toronto’s anti-discrimination policy requiring organizations that get cultural funding from the city to ensure that their events don’t contain “hate speech or discriminatory behaviour or messaging that is contrary to the city’s policy.”
Additionally, if an event is found to have violated the policy, the city can demand that the group repay the money.
That’s the most significant part of several positive updates to the policy, said Howard English, senior vice-president for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
He said he’s particularly pleased with the large margin in favour of the changes, since it shows that councillors understand that the old policy needed to be updated.
Kevin Beaulieu, executive director of Pride Toronto, said he’s concerned that the changes arose from controversy surrounding Pride, but added that his group is ultimately in favour of the new policy.
“The amendments require organizations to comply with the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Criminal Code of Canada, as well as to show respect for the dignity and worth of all participants in cases of areas of contested situations,” he said.
“Pride Toronto has already done that work and has gone to great effort to ensure everyone in our situation has a chance to be heard and have their arguments carefully considered.”
After receiving complaints that QuAIA’s participation in Pride violated the festival’s core principles, Pride undertook a review of its policies and procedures.
It also recently released its reasons for last year’s decision to allow QuAIA to march in the Pride parade for a second straight year, despite complaints from pro-Israel groups.
Pride found that QuAIA’s messaging didn’t violate any laws nor contradict the festival’s core principles.
Ward 10 Councillor James Pasternak told The CJN that the wording of the amendments might be tight enough to stop QuAIA from engaging in “demonizing behaviour” at Pride.
But he said he’s particularly concerned about problems occurring at WorldPride, the international festival that Toronto is set to host next summer.
“What we’re looking for now is making sure that WorldPride doesn’t turn into an international anti-Israel hate-fest,” he said of the festival, which is organized by InterPride, an international gay and lesbian organzation.
“What we’ve done is tightened up the wording so that this kind of demonization and bullying would be against city policy and grant policy.”
One potential loophole in the amendments where Pride is concerned is that city funding for the festival has traditionally been allocated to cultural events and not to the parade itself, so the changes may not apply to violations that occur at the latter event.
But English said the amendments apply to both direct and indirect funding, so policy violations that might occur at the parade would be included.
Pasternak said the new amendments represent a positive step toward ensuring that city funds are used properly.
“We have the mechanisms now to go back and make sure these funds are not abused,” Pasternak said.
“We'll have to track it, and make sure the discussion continues, but we've made great headway.”
QuAIA didn’t respond to The CJN’s request for comment.
The next print edition of The CJN is Aug. 1.