TORONTO — More than $100,000 in city funding for the 2011 Toronto Pride Parade won’t be forthcoming if organizers allow an anti-Israel group to take part, Mayor Rob Ford says.
The annual event is almost four months away – Pride Week runs from June 24 to July 4 this year – but Ford has already vowed not to open city coffers for Pride if it lets the controversial anti-Israel group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) march again this year.
“Taxpayers dollars should not go toward funding hate speech,” Ford told The CJN last week, making specific reference to QuAIA. He repeated the pledge he made during the mayoral campaign not to fund Pride if QuAIA is allowed to participate.
Pride received $123,807 from the city last year, but in the midst of a noisy debate about QuAIA’s participation in last year’s march, then-candidate Ford said that as mayor, he would withhold Pride’s funding if it let the group march again.
The issue of QuAIA’s involvement has been a sticky one for organizers over the last few years. Since it first participated in 2008, the group has been heavily criticized by many in the Jewish gay and lesbian community, as well as in the broader community, for being out of place in a parade that seeks to celebrate inclusivity.
The loss of city funding would be a blow to Pride Toronto, which emerged from last year’s festival with a debt of nearly $110,000 due to alleged financial mismanagement and the loss of a $400,000 federal grant, Xtra reported.
After last year’s parade – in which QuAIA’s presence was countered directly by Jewish community organizations such as UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, Canadian Jewish Congress and the Canada-Israel Committee, marching in solidarity with Kulanu Toronto, the Jewish community’s main gay advocacy group – deep rifts emerged in Toronto’s gay and lesbian community, Pride said.
In an attempt to resolve this issue, among others, Pride Toronto set up a community advisory panel last year comprising nine volunteer members who represented views on both sides of the issue.
The panel was chaired by Rev. Brent Hawkes and held several community forums in an attempt to find consensus on what to do about QuAIA. On Feb. 17, the panel presented its official recommendations. Pride Toronto has since accepted all the recommendations.
The panel did not reach a firm decision on QuAIA’s participation, even though the report itself acknowledged that the issue is what sparked the need for the panel in the first place.
In fact, the panel’s 21-page executive summary only mentions QuAIA by name once.
Instead, after nine months of debating and community consultations, the panel urged that all Parade participants “be required to sign an enforceable undertaking not to portray messages or images that condone or promote violence, hatred or negative stereotypes against any group.”
The panel also recommended that Pride set up a “dispute resolution process” that would be binding for all participants.
Francisco Alvarez, co-chair of Pride Toronto, said his organization is in the process of implementing this recommendation by assembling a pool of “qualified dispute resolution officers.”
“We are quite certain that when we are set up to do this… [complaints about QuAIA] will go through the dispute resolution process, and the final outcome will be determined by an independent arbitrator, not by Pride Toronto. Pride will abide by this decision, whatever it may be,” Alvarez wrote in an e-mail.
Regarding Ford’s threat to withhold funding if QuAIA participates this year, Alvarez said Pride will fight that decision if it happens.
“If the city later decides to cut funding to one of its major annual community and tourist events, one that generates millions in tax revenues and hotel, restaurant and retail profits for Toronto businesses, we will be prepared to contest that decision, and, if necessary, reduce the scope of the festival. But we are hopeful that we will continue to receive the city’s support.”
Justine Apple, Kulanu Toronto’s executive director, said she supports Ford’s funding stance and anticipates that QuAIA will again be allowed to march in the parade.
She confirmed that Kulanu would also take part again this year and that her organization would seek community-wide Jewish support, as it did in 2010. She said Kulanu plans to meet with Congress and UJA Federation next month.
“Pride is about the celebration of gay rights. It’s not a platform from which to spew hatred and intolerance. QuAIA’s messaging is clearly discriminatory, divisive and inflammatory and has no place in the parade,” Apple said.
She added that Kulanu is pleased that Pride is forming the dispute resolution committee.
“Pride is trying to be more transparent by listing groups that apply for the parade by putting their names on their website. At that point, other groups can look at that and see if they don’t like who’s scheduled to march” and file a complaint, she said.
Apple said that Kulanu will be “out and proud” at this year’s parade and remains “excited” to be part of it.