Written by Atara Beck - Jewish Tribune
TORONTO – The Ontario government has increased its grant to Pride Toronto (PT) this year by $100,000 – from $300,000 to $400,000 – with no preconditions as part of the province’s Celebrate Ontario program.
“This definitely relieves some of the pressures going into the 2011 festival,” PT Fundraising Director Ryan Lester told Xtra! Canada’s Gay and Lesbian News.
Pride organizers were concerned because Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has refused to provide funding to Pride Toronto if Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) were once again allowed to march at the parade, which this year takes place on July 3, culminating the 10-day festival.
“We’re happy this [provincial] grant has come through. It’s a big one,” Lester said in the report.
Last year, Ford had vowed to deny funding “to promote a hateful agenda and hijack an important event in the city…. We certainly aren’t going to hand over money to a group that makes certain Toronto taxpayers feel unsafe or threatened in their own city. I won’t stand for it.” (See Jewish Tribune, June 15, 2010.)
Makunthan Paramalingham, director of communications for Ontario Tourism and Culture Minister Michael Chan, told the Tribune that there were no stipulations attached to the 2011 grant. The Pride festival “will bring an economic return of tens of thousands of dollars,” he said.
The province’s decision is “deplorable,” declared Progressive Conservative MPP Peter Shurman, who represents Thornhill. “I think it’s patently wrong. The primary reason for the Pride parade is to celebrate an orientation, which is entirely their right. But I take great exception to use of that forum – or any other forum, from the Santa Claus parade to Thanksgiving – to celebrate hatred in a public way.
“It goes against the spirit of my resolution that passed unanimously last year in the Ontario legislature condemning the use of the word ‘apartheid’ [attributed to Israel] on our college campuses and, frankly, anywhere else.”
“The Liberal government is completely out of touch with and oblivious to how hateful and harmful the messaging is at Pride, and it’s shocking they wouldn’t distance themselves from it and just hand over the cheque,” stated lawyer Martin Gladstone, who last year produced a documentary, Reclaiming Our Pride, which exposed the hijacking of Pride by anti-Israel activists.
Paramalingham said the provincial government would not interfere in internal Pride issues and is relying on Pride’s recently formed Community Advisory Panel to address any conflicts. Creating the panel “was an important step forward by the organization,” he said, while stressing the increase in tourism and other economic advantages that the festival would bring to Ontario.
“It’s a moral abdication,” Gladstone asserted. “The Liberal government is out of sync with what’s happening. It’s that clear. It’s what you permit that you promote.”
Gladstone and other community activists are also incensed that Toronto-Dominion (TD) Bank Group, a significant corporate sponsor, has not demanded that Pride censor its anti-Israel messaging. They are urging Jewish community members to pull their business from TD.
“Many individuals of widely differing views have marched in the parade over the years,” Scott Mullin, Vice President Community Relations, told the Jewish Tribune. “Our support of Pride Week was, of course, not an endorsement of any or all of the individual or organizational views that may be expressed during these festivities.”
QuAIA, however, with its demonization of the Jewish state, was the only group with hateful messaging to march in the parade, which resulted in the alienation of a large number of would-be participants. Mullin described QuAIA’s agenda as “controversial.”
“We recognize that participation of the group QuAIA in the parade was very controversial, and for some that controversy overshadowed the theme of support for the LGBT community,” Mullen said. “An advisory group to Pride Toronto has consulted with many stakeholders, including members of the Jewish community. More than 100 recommendations were made by the panel to Pride Toronto and made public on Feb. 17.
“TD supports the process Pride Toronto is taking to address their challenges and shape their future direction. Pride Toronto will need time to digest the many recommendations. We do understand Pride Toronto will be putting some arrangements outlined in the report in place shortly, including a formal anti-discrimination policy and a mechanism to address complaints about participants.”
As to whether TD would reconsider its funding of Pride if QuAIA is permitted to march, Suzanna Cohen, manager, Corporate Communications (Diversity)/ Corporate and Public Affairs, responded: “We don’t know what’s going to happen this year. We’re basically on a ‘wait and hold.’ We’ll address the situation at the time.”
Asked whether TD has lost business over this issue, Mullin said: “We can’t comment on any relationships with our customers.”