HALIFAX – Moving to avoid a Toronto-style conflict, Halifax’s police force says it will not participate in the city’s Pride parade this year.
Halifax Regional Police said the decision was made after several months of discussions with Halifax Pride, and took into consideration the “national debate” about police involvement in such events.
Chief Jean-Michel Blais said the police service might have contributed to divisions in the Pride community had it participated in the parade.
“We recognize that as a result of what we’ve seen elsewhere in the country, specifically in Toronto, as well as what we’ve heard here locally, that there were some concerns about police presence in the parade,” Blais said at a news conference Monday.
“In our view, stepping away temporarily from the parade will best support the LGBT2Q+ community to help for allow for meaningful discussion of the issue.”
Last month, Pride Toronto members voted to ostensibly ban official police floats from marches and parades, adopting a list of demands put forward by that city’s chapter of Black Lives Matter.
The list of requests from Black Lives Matter has been the source of controversy and polarization within the community since the 2016 Toronto Pride parade, during which the group staged a half-hour sit-in to present their list of demands.
Halifax Pride executive director Adam Reid said he believes the Halifax force is the first in Canada to take such an approach.
“I think it demonstrates that (Halifax Regional Police) is a partner that understands community concerns,” said Reid, although he would not elaborate on what those concerns are specifically.
“It’s a debate that’s going on locally and across the country … and I think it’s a really great opportunity for the community, no matter what they think of the decision, to take a look at what that debate is and examine everyone’s point of view.”
The force said it would be involved in other Pride activities — to be determined through consultation with the community — such as a barbecue or public lecture.
Uniformed officers have participated in the annual Pride parade for at least 10 years, said Blais.
Officers will still provide security and direct traffic at the event in Halifax’s downtown, he said.
Blais said he still plans to walk in this year’s parade with other Halifax Regional Municipality officials in a T-shirt or golf shirt emblazoned with the force’s logo. He added that other officers are welcome to participate in the parade in plain clothes.
The force’s future participation in parades will be assessed on an ongoing basis, he said.
Last year’s Toronto parade ground to a halt and only resumed when Pride Toronto’s then-executive director Matthieu Chantelois signed the list of demands that included better representation for radicalized communities during Pride events, and a ban on police floats in future parades.
He later told the media that he only did so in order to get the event moving again. Chantelois resigned about a month later amid allegations of racism and harassment in the workplace.
Pride Toronto issued an apology in September for what it described as a “history of anti-blackness” and “repeated marginalization of the marginalized,” pledging at that time to honour the promises made to Black Lives Matter.
Blais acknowledged that reaction to the force’s decision not to participate in the parade has been mixed, but said he believes it’s the best move.
“This isn’t a matter of Halifax Regional Police versus Halifax Pride. This is a matter of Halifax Regional Police and Halifax Pride coming to a decision,” he said. “Sometimes we have to step back a little bit, especially to be able to improve relationships and to further those relationships.”
Halifax Pride recently issued an apology for an emotional annual general meeting last October, when a resolution that would have removed a pro-Israel campaign from a Pride event was defeated by a majority vote.
The motion drew support from the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project, a group that advocates for LGBT people across the province, but vehement opposition from the Atlantic Jewish Council and national Jewish groups, which said the resolution went against the Jewish community’s freedom of expression.
“Halifax Pride regrets the pain that was caused in the community as a result of that (meeting),” said Reid at Monday’s news conference.
“We didn’t feel like we handled it as well as we should have. Our actions and our inactions leading up to the (meeting), I feel, caused further rifts in the community. We need to acknowledge that as we continue to work with the community.”