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Toronto to debate anti-discrimination policy before Pride

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Kulanu Toronto members march in the 2012 Pride Parade. [Kulanu Toronto photo]

TORONTO — Toronto City Council will debate proposed amendments to the city’s anti-discrimination policy at its upcoming June 11 meeting.

The amendments are the outgrowth of deputations given to and motions moved by council’s executive committee on May 28 in anticipation of another round of controversy over city funding to the Toronto Pride festival.

Pride’s 2012 festival received $123,807 from the city. This year’s weeklong event runs from June 21 to 30.

In what has become an annual battle with the city, pro-Israel groups and their supporters want Toronto to stop funding the festival as long as it permits groups such as the controversial Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) to participate with what is seen as “hate messaging.”

As part of a deputation last week to the executive committee, Howard English, senior vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), greater Toronto region, told executive council members to consider what groups such as QuAIA represent and how it reflects badly upon the city.

“QuAIA has hijacked the parade and transformed it into a divisive and politically malicious event, overtaken by angry, obsessive extremists,” he said. “The Pride Parade has become known as a global stage to discredit Israel, to the exclusion of all other countries in the world. Year after year, we shine a spotlight on QuAIA, and provide millions of dollars in unwarranted publicity to a small, sad band of anti-Israel fanatics whose propaganda proclamations masquerade as truth. The city will ultimately have to decide whether it wants to financially support events that feature hurtful, polarizing rhetoric that harm its reputation.”

Proposed amendments to the anti-discrimination policy include recommendations that it include a provision that requires an organization that “receives either direct or indirect cultural funding from the city to not permit any hate speech or discriminatory behaviour or messaging that is contrary to the city’s policy, in which case the direct funding is to be returned to the city or refused by the city.”

Pride Toronto has accepted QuAIA for inclusion in this year’s parade. It remains unclear how the city could legally ban QuAIA from the festival as long as its anti-discrimination policy doesn’t indicate the term “Israeli apartheid” as a form of hate speech.

In 2011, city council ordered city manager Joseph Pennachetti to report on whether QuAIA’s messaging violated Toronto’s anti-discrimination bylaw.

Pennachetti’s report ruled that the term “Israeli apartheid” did not constitute hate messaging under city bylaws, since the term had never been judged as hate speech by a court or tribunal.

In 2012, city council officially condemned the term “Israeli apartheid.”

Toronto will host the World Pride event in 2014, prompting fears from the pro-Israel camp that the event could be used as an even bigger platform to demonize the Jewish state.

A grassroots advocacy group called Stop Sponsoring the Hatred raised concern about how World Pride 2014 might further tarnish the city’s reputation.

“If [Toronto city council] doesn’t act to stop the politicization of a parade built on civility and tolerance, then it opens the floodgates to every hate group. And next year, World Pride 2014 will attract the same elements of the G20 who came here to politically protest, but ended up deliberately smashing our city,” the group said in a May 30 statement. “Is it unreasonable to speculate whether World Pride 2014 will be used as an international anti-Israel bashing session, like [the World Conference Against Racism in] Durban [in 2001]?”

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In related news, Kulanu Toronto, the city’s main Jewish lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered organization, said it is focusing this year on the positive side of Pride and steering clear of the politics.

The group is encouraging all supporters to turn out at this year’s Pride Parade on June 30 to march with it.

In an e-mail to The CJN, Justine Apple, Kulanu’s executive director, said her non-profit hopes to promote inclusivity at this year’s festival.

“We will march to celebrate our double roles as proud members of the LGBT community and proud supporters of the State of Israel,” she wrote.

Apple added that the group believes that “attempts to demonize or delegitimize” the Jewish pro-Israel goes against our core Canadian values.

“The atmosphere at Pride must be welcoming and inclusive to everyone and free from hateful or toxic language. For Kulanu Toronto, Pride is about celebration, inclusion, and acceptance of diversity. We intend to march with many supporters in an atmosphere of harmony and respect.”

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