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Citing spike in hate, Pride groups call for safety plan from Ontario government

The Canadian Press   

News editors pick hate hate crimes parade pride

By Jordan Omstead in Toronto

A coalition of Ontario Pride organizations called on the province Thursday to urgently work with them to develop a proactive safety plan to beat back a rising tide of anti-LGBTQ hate.

Leaders from five Pride organizations, from Thunder Bay to Ottawa, said that in the absence of consistent funding and provincial support, Pride festivals are struggling against what some called unprecedented levels of hate.

David Tran / iStock / Getty Images Plus

“We can’t keep up this amount of hate,” North Bay Pride’s Jason Maclennan said at a news conference Thursday. “We are out of options and our government needs to step up.”

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An “alarming surge in hostility” led the group to treat a Pride event set for next month as a protest, not a parade, echoing the festival’s historical roots, Maclennan said.

“The decision reflects the severity of the challenges we face.”

The groups, joined by NDP MPP Kristyn Wong-Tam, called on the province to meet with LGBTQ representatives to develop a proactive safety plan. They also called for the government to restore funding to a provincial festival grant program.

The funding changes were having an effect in Ottawa, which is set to hold Pride events later this month, said Capital Pride executive director Toby Whitfield.

“In the context of rising hate, we are deeply disappointed to see funding cut by about 50 per cent this year, and those decisions to come out so late in the summer festival season,” he said.

The coalition’s calls come amid a sharp rise in reported hate incidents targeting the LGBTQ community.

The latest Statistics Canada data indicate police across Canada reported 491 hate-motivated incidents targeting sexual orientation last year, more than double the annual average over the previous 10 years. Since not all hate incidents are reported to police, researchers note the data often vastly underestimate the threat facing targeted communities.

Those speaking at Thursday’s news conference referenced the stabbings in late June at a University of Waterloo gender studies class, where the professor and two students were injured in what police called a hate-motivated attack. Meanwhile, vandalization and theft of Pride flags have made headlines across Ontario in recent months while drag events have drawn significant protests.

“This is unprecedented,” said Scotia Kauppi, chair of Thunder Bay’s Pride association. She said the volunteer-run festival brought out over 10,000 supporters, but also had to handle a barrage of hateful threats.

For the first time in 10 years, Fierté Timmins Pride founder Julie Norbert DeMarch said the organization felt compelled to come up with a comprehensive safety plan for this year’s festival, using already-stretched resources to hire private security for an all-ages drag event.

“Concrete acts and actions such as substantial funding allocations are essential to continue critical education and awareness initiatives to reduce hate and promote understanding,” she said. “The safety and well-being of our community are at stake.”

The groups backed a private member’s bill put forward earlier this year by Wong-Tam, the NDP’s critic for 2SLGBTQ+ issues. If passed, it would give the attorney general power to temporarily establish community safety zones around venues hosting LGBTQ events and levy hefty fines for harassment and hate speech.

The groups said continued support and investment in Pride festivals also made economic sense for the government, citing the economic windfall they can generate for communities.

“This is not an ask for a handout,” said Pride Toronto executive director Kojo Modeste. “It is an ask for an investment.”

A spokesperson for Michael Ford, Ontario’s minister of citizenship and multiculturalism, said the province works with many organizations to help ensure they “thrive and build a stronger, safer and more inclusive Ontario for all.”

“No one should live in fear for being who they are and loving whoever they choose and our government has and will continue to combat hate and discrimination in all its forms, including toward 2SLGBTQQIA+ communities,” Mark Pelayo wrote in a statement.

The government’s one-time Experience Ontario funding program, which provided support for festivals and other events, was highly competitive, Pelayo said, and not all applications could be supported.

“We remain committed to helping 2SLGBTQQIA+ communities in Ontario thrive, including through many grant opportunities like the $25.5 million Anti-Hate Security and Prevention Grant,” Pelayo wrote.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 3, 2023.


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