Canadian Security Magazine

York Pride security director shares game plan to protect parade weekend

Neil Sutton   

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Main Street in Newmarket, Ont., was filled with people celebrating Pride. (Photo: Greg King)

When it comes to event planning, particularly high profile parades and large public gatherings, the security mantra is hope for the best but plan for every possible outcome.

As York Pride’s security director and emergency manager, Jennifer McLachlan collaborated with a range of first responders, security service providers, law enforcement agencies and York Pride organizers to deliver the safest possible experience for attendees, participants, and the vendors and sponsors that supported the event.

York Pride, now in its 24th year, was held Friday, June 14 and Saturday, June 15. The event included a Trans March, concert stage, fashion show and parade along Main Street in Newmarket, the Ontario municipality that has hosted the event since 2017. The Pride weekend drew an estimated 25,000 visitors and roughly 2,500 people participated in the Saturday parade.

McLachlan has been involved in the York Pride event since 2017, initially as a sponsor and vendor. A full-time security consultant with a career that spans almost 20 years, McLachlan was, until recently, also the owner of a Newmarket restaurant that participated in annual York Pride parades.

In 2023, she performed a threat risk assessment ahead of the parade that year and in 2024 accepted a larger role as York Pride’s security director. In that capacity, she was instrumental in liaising with law enforcement and other security providers, as well as establishing an emergency operations centre that was active during the two days of York Pride.

McLachlan, who spoke to Canadian Security shortly after the York Pride weekend concluded, said she began the security planning process in February of this year initially by reaching out to a trusted colleague, Brian Claman.

Claman, principal of Toronto-based security firm Brian Claman & Assoc., acted as an advisor and his associate Bill Neadles was tapped as incident commander for the York Pride event. Neadles, a retired Toronto Police superintendent with a 40-year policing career, was an ideal candidate due to this considerable experience in public safety, said McLachlan.

Having Neadles in her corner demonstrated “how serious we were” about parade security said McLachlan and helped to open a dialogue with law enforcement. “I knew it would be an easier conversation going to all of these agencies, by saying, we’ve hired an incident commander… and we need to work in partnership and collaboration,” said McLachlan.

McLachlan connected with York Regional Police (YRP), and set up a series of virtual meetings with YRP and other stakeholders. McLachlan also met with RCMP and the Ontario Provincial Police, as York Pride was attended by Ontario Premier Doug Ford, the provincial Liberal leader Bonnie Crombie, as well as a number of federal Liberal MPs.

Allied Universal came on board as a York Pride sponsor, and also provided security guards and remote video monitoring capabilities to support the event.

The risks to any event, particularly an event that celebrates Pride, are well known, from actions based on hate or discrimination to disruptions instigated by protestors who are looking for a public platform.

These are the most obvious threats, but there are a thousand other possibilities lurking in an unknown future. What if there is a weather-related event? What if it’s 40 degrees on parade day and the potential for heatstroke is high? What if a business along the parade route catches fire? In that case, what is the evacuation plan and how easy is it for emergency services to reach the scene in a timely fashion?

The security team led by McLachlan considered all of these possible outcomes and more. In the weeks leading up to the event, York Pride advertisements placed around town were defaced and vandalized — a reminder that potential threats are never too far away.

Fortunately, the York Pride weekend itself did not experience a major security incident. “Everybody worked and stayed accountable for their piece,” said McLachlan of the combined police and security effort. “ It was really good.”

There’s still room for improvement, added McLachlan, and she already has her eye on planning for next year. Job one would be to start the planning process even earlier, she said.

In 2025, York Pride will celebrate its 25th annual event, and there are expectations it will be the biggest one yet. With that will come extra scrutiny and possibly an expanded threat landscape. But the spirit of co-operation and goodwill showcased at this year’s Pride weekend bodes well for next year and York Pride events to come, said McLachlan.

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