For the third year in a row, uniformed and armed Toronto Police officers will not be welcome to march in this summer’s Pride Parade. Members of Pride Toronto voted 163 to 161 against allowing the police to participate in their 2019 festival while wearing uniforms and/or carrying weapons.
No doubt, there are many reasons members voted for this decision. Some are likely unfair. Some are likely unreasonable. But, the decision itself, is… entirely reasonable.
In fact, it should be Toronto Police policy.
Until 2016, the Toronto Police Service routinely sent a marching contingent to participate in the Pride parade. They routinely marched in patrol dress: wearing body armour, carrying handcuffs, sidearms, night sticks, etc. all the tools of the trade. The question we should be asking is: Why?
In 2016, Black Lives Matter was an “Honoured Group” given a choice position at the head of the Toronto Pride Parade. During the parade, they surprised organizers by sitting down in an intersection, halting the parade, and refusing to move until Pride’s Executive Director agreed to sign a document capitulating to BLM’s demands. One of those demands was that Toronto Police would be banned from future Pride events.
Yes, it was extortion. Yes, Black Lives Matter is a single-issue cohort that hates cops. But, that’s what sparked the present standoff between TPS and Pride Toronto.
“Toronto cops don’t carry weapons or wear body armour in other parades. Why just Pride?”
So, it was that Toronto Police were excluded from Toronto Pride events in 2017 and 2018. In 2018, TPS members were invited to, and did participate in, the New York City Pride parade. This is only relevant because images from that event show New York Police marching in the parade in their dress (i.e. Parade) uniforms – and TPS officers marching mostly in shirt-sleeves. None of the NYPD or TPS officers are armed. Some TPS members wore NYC Pride-themed t-shirts.
Toronto Police officers do not normally carry weapons or wear body armour while participating in other parades. For example, they wear their dress uniforms, without weapons, in funeral parades and in Remembrance Day parades.
In fact, it is highly unusual for any police service to participate in public parades wearing patrol gear: body armour and weapons. There is no need for body armour, handcuffs, nightsticks, pepper spray or firearms when marching in a parade. A parade is a celebration – or it’s a somber public display of respect. Officers on parade are celebrating – or paying respects. They’re not occupying territory, facing down a riot, or deploying to secure the streets.
Police officers only wear body armour, ostensibly, to protect themselves in high-threat environments. Marching in a parade is not a high threat environment. Certainly, police in a marching contingent face no more threat than anyone else participating in or observing the parade. There is no need to wear body armour in the Pride Parade. Plus, it’s heavy, hot and uncomfortable.
“Marching in a parade is not a high-threat environment”
Police officers carry weapons, handcuffs, nightsticks, pepper spray, etc. as tools that help them perform their duties: law enforcement, protection of the public, effecting arrests. Officers marching in parades are there to celebrate or pay their respects – not to enforce the laws. There are other officers, on duty and dressed in patrol uniform with armour and weapons, detailed to maintain the peace at the Pride festival and other parades. There is no reason for officers participating in the Pride Parade to be armed.
In fact, there’s no real reason for officers participating in the Pride parade to be in uniform at all. However, if the Chief wants them in uniform because he’s proud of them – and he should be – they should wear their normal parade uniform: tunic, cap, gloves. No weapons. Just like they do on Remembrance Day and at police funerals.
Better yet, the purpose of police participation in the Pride parade is to establish kinship with the community. They should celebrate like the community, dressed in shorts, and perhaps Pride-themed TPS t-shirts. Just like many of them did in New York City last year.