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All signs must be vetted with us first: Pride Toronto


All signs must be vetted with us first: Pride Toronto

UPDATE, Mar 14: Pride Toronto releases parade terms
UPDATE, Mar 16, 7:30 am: The Don't sanitize Pride facebook group appraoches 1,100 members. Check back here later today for an update on this story.

UPDATE, Mar 14, 7am: Pride Toronto posted its Terms and Conditions of Participation document online yesterday, as the Don't sanitize Pride: Free expression must prevail facebook group surpassed 700 members.  

"Everyone who thinks this is 'censorship' should take note that none of this is anything new," wrote Sandilands on Facebook. "Last year, Parade entrants' messaging had to be approved by the Parade Committee. The only thing that has changed is that there will be a committee set up that includes community members who will do this in a more organized fashion.

"The real purpose of this is to ensure that if someone turns up with real hate messaging - which has happened before in the history of Pride Toronto - that the mechanisms are in place to remove them and we don't all stand helplessly by. Its not about preventing freedom of speech at any time. It's about being proactive to ensure the measures are in place to protect everyone that takes part and everyone that comes to watch."

But Xtra has noted no notable cases of homophobic violence, or even anti-gay protests, during Pride in Toronto in recent years. Nor has Xtra noted any movement among gay and lesbian people (other than by Pride Toronto) to limit free expression in Toronto's Pride parade. 

Rick Telfer, one of the administrators on the Don't sanitize Pride Facebook group, responded to Sandilands there: 

Tracey Sandilands, Executive Director of Pride Toronto Inc., has responded to recent concerns about censorship in the 2010 Toronto Pride Parade. She writes: "As usual there is a lot of misinformation being circulated. [...] Everyone who thinks this is 'censorship' should take note that none of this is anything new. The only thing that has changed is that there will be a committee set up that includes community members who will do this in a more organized fashion."

Unfortunately, Ms. Sandilands omits a very pertinent fact. Namely, Point 7 in the Terms and Conditions is in fact new this year. It reads: "The Applicant agrees to present in writing all messaging and signage developed and planned for use in the Parade for approval by Pride Toronto by June 18th, 2010. Any messaging and signage that does not receive the organization's approval or that receives a clear refusal will not be permitted in the Parade."

Also relevant is the fact that this new policy emerged in the context of a debate about the presence in the parade of particular political/activist causes and messages involving many members of the LGBTQ community. Despite this truth, Ms. Sandilands claims that the "real purpose [...] is to ensure that if someone turns up with real hate messaging [...] that the mechanisms are in place to remove them."

Are we really supposed to believe that Point 7 is all about preventing "hate"? Is "hate" not already illegal? Would the community not already fully support the removal of "hate"?

Seemingly lost on Ms. Sandilands and Pride Toronto Inc. is the fact that Point 7 is wide open to interpretation and, therefore, abuse. Freedom of expression is at risk. Undoubtedly we can all agree that "hate" is unacceptable and unwelcome. But Point 7 does not refer to "hate" and "hate" remains undefined. Furthermore, the logisitics of pre-approval will be incredibly laborious and frustrating.

It appears that the new policy -- being as open-ended and all-encompassing as it is -- could empower Pride Toronto Inc. to limit freedom of expression within the Toronto Pride Parade. The policy could very well embolden those within Pride Toronto Inc. to deny signage that some find politically disagreeable -- and not merely hateful. Indeed, perhaps this is the real purpose of Point 7.

So, who are we trying to please? Corporate sponsors? Lobby groups?

You are strongly encouraged to e-mail Ms. Sandilands and all members of the board of directors of Pride Toronto Inc. You can reach them via:


Just copy and paste these addresses and send your message. Pride Toronto Inc. needs to hear that we do not support the new requirement for pre-approval, that we support freedom of expression to the greatest reasonable extent, and that Pride belongs to us -- not to an "Ethics Committee", not to corporate sponsors, and not to external lobby groups. Your message need not be lengthy.


I am writing to express my opposition to Pride Toronto Inc.'s
new pre-approval policy pertaining to messaging and signage
in the Pride Parade. Pride Toronto Inc. must uphold freedom
of expression to the greatest possible extent. Point 7 will
pose serious logistical problems for many participants and
is much too susceptible to misuse and abuse. Political
expression is the origin of Toronto Pride. Members of the
LGBTQ community must be permitted to maintain that tradition
in all of their diversity.

Rick Telfer


UPDATE, Mar 13, 1pm: As the Don't sanitize Pride Facebook group nears 650 members, Pride Toronto executive director Tracey Sandilands tweeted this morning, "Lots of misinformation and lies being spread again. Parade terms will be online by end of Mon. After that questions can be asked #PrideTO."

UPDATE, Mar 12, 4pm: More than 400 people have joined the Facebook group Don't sanitize Pride: Free expression must prevailsince it was created on Thursday afternoon.

Pride Toronto tweeted Friday afternoon: "New #PrideTO Parade + Dyke March terms + conditions to be rlsed Mon. eve, if u still have questions, email our ED tracey@pridetoronto.com"


Mar 11: All groups participating in this year's Pride Parade and Dyke March must have their signs approved by Pride Toronto, the organization announced yesterday.

In a press release, Pride Toronto co-chair Jim Cullen wrote that all messages must "support the theme of the 2010 festival, celebrating '30 Years of Pride in Toronto.'"

The move has sparked outrage from activists who see this is a further attempt by Pride Toronto to distance itself from its political roots and as an indirect attack on the involvement of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA), whose dustup with Pride made mainstream headlines at last year's festival.
"It's pretty surprising to see Pride Toronto invested in an active moulding of the types of participation they want to see in the Parade," says Natalie Kouri-Towe, a member of QuAIA who marched with the group last year.

"I can only imagine this is a response to the targeting Pride received last year against the supposed ban of QuAIA from the Parade."

Reports in 2009 suggested Pride might prevent the QuAIA from marching. Pride insisted that they only required QuAIA to register before marching, and ultimately they were allowed to participate. But their involvement has drawn criticism from Zionist groups, and there is a suspicion among queer activists that this new policy is an attempt to stem future controversy.

Gary Kinsman, one of the founders of the original Pride Day in Toronto and a former active member of the Simon Nkodi Anti-Apartheid Committee that campaigned against apartheid in South Africa, expressed serious concern at Pride's announcement.

"I'm really quite disturbed about this," says Kinsman. "That [Pride has] new types of criteria that can be used to bar people — rather than welcoming people into our movements to express their political views, as long as they're not expressing hatred or bigotry, it's a bit frightening."

Kinsman also expressed alarm at the vagueness of Pride Toronto's criteria for determining what messages are acceptable.

"The only requirement that I could see is that [signs] must conform to the theme. If that's interpreted in a narrow sense, that could affect other groups within our liberation movements who are raising issues and concerns that don't in a narrow way relate to the theme for that particular year," he says.

Pride Toronto co-chair Jim Cullen refused to give specific examples of signage that would either meet or violate the terms of the new policy. Despite stating in the press release that the new policy was a response to community feedback, Cullen declined to comment on specific feedback that had informed Pride's decisions.

"The policy was not based on any particular word or group," he says.

In response to a question about whether there have been past incidents of groups carrying signs that incite violence or hate, Cullen said, "No comment."

Cullen added, "We're trying to focus on the future, not on reviewing what's already been done."

But with Pride Toronto organizers tightlipped, activist groups were left to wonder what the fallout might be.

QuAIA member Chelsey Lichtman suggests that the new policy might have broad implications, not just for her organization but for other groups.

"It's an interesting move to essentially dictate what people are allowed to march about in a Pride parade. It's almost a form of silencing. People wait all year for Pride to be able to be political in such an open and public way. That's what Pride is about," Lichtman says.

The policy is ostensibly to prevent groups from marching in Pride whose intention is to promote discrimination or hate. But, as Kouri-Towe points out, this has not historically been a problem in the parade.

"The reality is that hate groups are not participating. There hasn't been a context for this," she says.

"[It seems] they are responding to the suggestion that QuAIA are a hate group ... There's nothing we did last year that was deemed hate speech. The police and Pride Toronto looked at our banners last year, and people from Pride celebrated afterwards that we had participated in a very peaceful way."

Despite the new rules, Lichtman insists that QuAIA will still march this year:

"If they want banners that say something about the 30th Anniversary of Pride, we're going to follow the rules. There's no reason why we won't march. We're just going to have to get clever about it."

Read the full text of Pride Toronto's press release below:

* * *

10 March 2010
Pride Toronto focuses on celebrating 30 years in Parade

New terms of participation include staying on theme

Toronto, ON

This week Pride Toronto unveiled revised terms and conditions for groups applying to participate in the 2010 Parade and Dyke March. As part of Pride's efforts to respond to community feedback, participating groups will be asked to ensure that messages support the theme of the 2010 festival, celebrating "30 Years of Pride" in Toronto.

Pride has worked diligently to manage significant increases in attendance and activities over recent years, while ensuring the festival maintains a strong connection with the local community.

"In reaching out to the community, we have received exciting feedback on many topics over the past year," said Jim Cullen, Co-Chair of Pride Toronto's Board of Directors. "Our community sees Pride as a celebration of who we are and how far we have come. So we're asking all parade participants to focus on that."

In past years, Parade participants were asked to agree to non-discrimination policies and act in a manner supportive of the celebration of Pride.

Similar to policies already in place for other major Pride festivals, Pride Toronto will now require all Pride Parade and Dyke March participants ensure their messages support the theme of the year's festival. Participating groups must agree to avoid any messages that promote violence or hatred and to have their messages and signage approved by the Ethics Committee of Pride Toronto in advance of the event. Groups who fail to cooperate with the new practices will be denied permission to take part or removed from the line-up if necessary.

"We are promoting freedom of expression and diversity in a way that is positive and supportive of our community. We hope to include everybody who wants to participate," said Cullen. "We encourage all Parade groups to respect the spirit of celebration and inclusion that the Pride Parade represents."

Pride Toronto begins accepting applications to participate in the 2010 Pride Parade and Dyke March on March 15th. Interested groups are encouraged to visit pridetoronto.com for information and application forms.

About Pride Toronto:
Pride Toronto is the not-for-profit organization that hosts Pride Week, an annual festival held during the first weekend of July in downtown Toronto. Pride Toronto exists to celebrate the history, courage, diversity and future of Toronto's LGBTTIQQ2SA* communities and is one of the leading cultural events of its kind in the world with a total economic benefit in 2009 of $136 million.

Toronto's Pride Week has previously been named Best Festival in Canada by the Canadian Special Events Industry and is recognized as one of only eight Signature Events in the City of Toronto. It is ranked one of the TOP 50 festivals in Ontario by Festivals and Events Ontario (FEO) as well as one of the 18 Marquee Festivals of Distinction in Canada. With attendance of over 1,2 million, it is the third largest Pride celebration in the world and the largest in North America. http://www.pridetoronto.com

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Jonathan claims that "Israel and Jews were singled out for racist hatred at last year's Toronto pride parade."

First of all, racism is something that's done to people, not governments/states.

Second, "hatred" is illegal in Canada. Had "hatred" occurred, then why didn't the police arrest and charge the perpetrators? (Answer: Because there was no "hatred".)

Third, how do you explain the involvement of Jewish people in the QuAIA contingent? Are they racist Jew-haters, too?

QuAIA condemns all forms of racism and LGBT oppression. It is a peace-seeking group. For more information, see:

Even Israel's Minister of Defence, Ehud Barak, envisions "apartheid" in Israel. Is he a racist Jew-hater, too? How about Desmond Tutu (South African anti-apartheid activist), Jimmy Carter (former US President), Michael Ignatieff (Liberal Leader), and Naomi Klein (Jewish author and activist)? All racist Jew-haters, too, I suppose?

Goodness, they really are EVERYWHERE!
When will they get it??
Rich asks for " ... an argument in favour of censoring QuAIA that could convince me to accept it ... ".
I don't want to get started on the vile despots and dictatorships of today's world, where slavery, oppression of women, ethnic racism, homophobia and non-democracy are accepted government policy. The list is long, but to name just a few: Syria, China, North Korea, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Uganda - just for starters.

None of those vile policies are policies of the State of Israel, the only democracy in the entire Middle East.

Yet Israel and Jews were singled out for racist hatred at last year's Toronto pride parade.

Clearly, if people have a genuine interest in human rights and democracy, they would go after the real demons. Attacking Israel is thinly veiled as their stand on democratic human rights. However in the light of day, the attacks are nothing other than racist anti-Semitism - an enigma, a paradox and a violation of all that Pride Toronto should represent.

We need an unambiguous statement against last year's incitement to hatred, and to guarantee that it will be unacceptable at this year's parade.
Surely, (surely!) Pride Toronto has to take a stand against racism?
"Silence is the voice of consent".

Tarring Israel with the word 'apartheid' is also a slap in the face to the heroic struggle against real apartheid in South Africa.
convince me
I'm still waiting for someone to come along with an argument in favour of censoring QuAIA that could convince me to accept it. No one has even come even remotely close but considering how little I actually know about QuAIA I can imagine it might be possible. It would need logic and fact based arguments instead of name calling and emotional reactions, it would have to demonstrate that the threat from allowing QuAIA to express themselves is so great that it justifies the use of censorship. No one has even come close yet and so far the more I hear from the pro-censorship side the more convinced I am that they are very wrong about this issue. So pro-censorship folks be convincing and you may have a convert.
Um, Ben?
I didn't say they marched along those signs at Pride. I said they marched along those holding those signs.

This happened on Bloor Street last year. There were several very offensive signs - some supporting Hezbollah and Hamas, Down With Israel etc. and there were people from QAIA in attendance. Tacit support. I have been a sympathizer but these tactics and hatred have driven me away. I am not on any 'side' so I don't have to manufacture anything - but slander away. You reveal more about yourself than about me or your cause. Israel has behaved abominably, and I would not be saying that if I was supporting them unquestioningly. My beef is with activists of the left who should know what happens when you tolerate this sort of hatred in your midst, no matter how much you justify it with reference to history. The Jews can play that game as well, and with as much emotional justification. But the disproportionate focus on Israeli when there are many intolerant and racist regimes in the world speaks volumes. It comes nowhere near Darfur in numbers or deaths. When you keep company with anti-Semites, don't be surprised when you're accused of it yourself.
Wrong yet again
Mr. Magoo, you call me "hopeless" when I say that I believe Muslim queers are intelligent people than can fight for their own rights? You call it hopeless to help them by not interfering in their struggle?? Maybe it's difficult for you to understand this... but there are REAL, GENUINE queer movements at work in the Muslim world as we speak. There is Helem (dream) in Lebanon. There is Aswat in Palestine. I'm sure you've never heard of them before, because it seems you have little interest in those societies in general. Do you claim you know how best to support these groups when you've never even heard of them? Do you know what they are saying? Do you know what messages they are sending to the West?

Do you understand the main impediment to organizing for queer rights in the West Bank is NOT Palestinian society? Israel prevents ALL Palestinians from organizing for political causes, gay or straight.

You see Mr. Magoo, YOU are the one without hope. Because your arrogance blinds you from believing in their abilities to fight their own struggle. It blinds you from understanding their struggle or being able to help them in a way that is actually useful for them. So just keep supporting Israel... while it has it's boot firmly on the throat of all Palestinians, gay and straight alike.
No hope?
Sav, you seem to be saying that fighting for gay rights in Muslim countries is a hopeless cause and that Israel will listen to gay protests from the West, while Muslim countries will not. If so, I guess this mean that gays in an independent Palestinian state would be destined for an eternal closet.
Simply answer to Pride Toronto hullabaloo
5th annual Queer West Fest 2010, Less corporate! More grassroots. All Queer! a response to the more commercialized Pride Toronto. QWF works across the arts community addressing social justice issues, the needs of marginalized groups, primarily LGBT and Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic communities, and works to foster understanding amongst non-LGBT audiences. By creating environments where artists can explore queer culture and take risks, the festival cultivates creative synergies, thought-provoking displays, social commentary, and new possibilities for inhabiting sexuality and gender. We're Here. We're Queer and we're waiting for you.
Opening the door to broader criticism
Thanks for your comments, Mark. Your points are alarming. But I would be more optimistic about how this fiasco over attempts to pre-approve/censor signage is playing out. A lot of people (like myself) never followed the Pride Committee's decision-making process before, but are engaged now. So now I'm learning about the issue of huge deficits that you raise as well as other issues on the Facebook site

"Don't sanitize Pride: Free expression must prevail"


--issues like possible conflicts of interest in who the Pride Committee hires for expensive parties that it cannot afford etc., it's work with neo-con run groups like Navigator (who mis-managed the so-called focus groups) and other such disturbing news. How can there be more accountability for the issue of deficits you raise? Was this issue gaining traction before, what you call, the distraction occurred? If not, then here's an opportunity to forthrightly raise this issue over finances alongside other issues that are vital to the community, like freedom of expression. They are all important (and don't have to cancel each other out). Perhaps there's an emerging grassroots movement in all the calls for more democracy and accountability. We can neither be in the red, nor can we silence voices of queer solidarity in the Pride Parade. We need to take Pride back to its roots.
Pride is either very smart or very dumb, time will
A simple statement from the Chair would have been sufficient. “Pride Toronto is rooted in the struggle for free expression, statements of hate will not be tolerated and will be dealt with in accordance to the law”.

By first glance Pride released a poorly drafted, wordy press statement re-stating a policy already in practice and one that many other “prides” already have in place. OR this is a classic example of a PR distraction tactic.

A few weeks ago when the O’Canada was on the lips of every Canadian, The Harper Government said that they will look at changing the words. The reaction was swift and angry and worked, the Prorogue was forgotten, Afghanistan was ignored, the Budget and throne speech was overshadowed.

The facts are:

Expressions of hate are not tolerated by society and are a mater for the police and lawyers to deal with, not an arbitrary group of volunteers.

The Pride Press release has now taken the chattering class off on a tangent.

Last year Pride Toronto lost $140,000, more then the last 12 years combined. No one is questioning that.

In a recent Xtra article the Executive Director is quoted saying “ that the $250,000 “stabilization fund in fact never existed. “We don’t know why the previous auditors approved it”.

Hmm an auditor would never report something that was never in existence.

Misplacing $250,000 will not explainable with a simple "oops"

Now you decide, is the press release on “vetting” signage, smart or stupid. I can almost guarantee you that at some point Navigator advised Pride to create a distraction that will go away in a few weeks.
Wrong again
Mr. Magoo, again you completely misunderstand the dynamics of the struggle for queer rights in that part of the world. First of all, marching against Saudi or Iran on queer rights would be pointless because neither I nor you have any influence over that government's behavior (Israel's human rights abuses are very different in this respect). Further, do you know what queer Saudis and Iranians are actually asking people in the West to do to support them? If you were to listen, if you had your ear tuned to that part of the world, you would know that Western denunciations of those countries/cultures are often used as an _excuse_ to clamp down on queers and other dissenting and marginalized groups. So protesting in that case might make _you_ feel better, but it's unlikely to do anything for Muslim queers except complicate their struggle. They have enough problems already. So if you want to help those people, listen to what they are actually saying! Do you claim to know what is best for queers in Saudi better than they know themselves?


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