Activists Debate the VPD’s Role in Vancouver Pride Parade
Vancouver Police Department seeks to work with community partners
In response to a push by Black Lives Matter to remove uniformed police from the Vancouver Pride Parade, a group of Vancouver’s veteran LGBTQ2+ activists submitted a counter-petition to the Vancouver Pride Society on Feb. 12.
It raises concerns that the removal of uniformed police officers from the parade could be damaging to the relationship between the VPD and LGBTQ2+ communities.
Black Lives Matter Vancouver initially made the request to remove police from the parade in an open letter to the Vancouver Pride Society and the Vancouver Police Department last July.
Entitled “Remove the police from the Vancouver Pride Parade”, the letter acknowledges the need for law enforcement to ensure safety at the event, but asks that police withdraw from the actual parade as a “symbolic gesture” and “sign of support for PoC and black communities.” The letter also cites a similar movement in Toronto, where BLM halted the parade until its director signed an agreement to their terms, one of which would remove police from the 2017 parade.
BLM Vancouver has not yet responded to interview requests, but statements from the 2016 letter are provided on their petition page.
“Having the Vancouver Police Department on the ground to perform a civil service is understandable,” it reads. “However, having the institution participate on a float in the organized festivities of the actual parade is inappropriate and insulting to those who came before us to make Pride celebrations possible.”
The counter-petition—“Our Pride Includes Our Police”—was put forward by four of Vancouver’s seasoned LGBTQ2+ activists – Kevin Dale Mckeown, The Georgia Straight’s first gay journalist, Sandy Leo Laframboise, a transgender Métis activist, Gordon Hardy, co-founder of the Vancouver Gay Liberation Front, and Velvet Steele, an LGBTQ2+ rights activist and member of the Canadian Alliance For Sex Work Law Reform.
Velvet Steele participated in the release of the counter petition with the belief that removing uniformed police from the parade would be counterproductive.
“I’m totally supportive of many aspects of it, absolutely. But to exclude them, no, I don’t agree with that,” says Steele, in reference to the BLM petition. “To take away their uniforms, no, I don’t agree with that either. I want to be marching with them, beside them, letting them know and letting people know that we are working together here.”
Steele notes that it has been a long and difficult process getting the police into the parade, and that their involvement dates back to 2002. She also mentions that Vancouver is different from other regions in the country.
“What we want is clear dialogue. We want positive, adult-oriented, civil dialogue to take place between both parties. We don’t want the doors to be closed,” says Steele.
Kieran Burgess, executive director of operations for the Vancouver Pride Society, says that VPS has used the letter from Black Lives Matter to guide the process of planning for Pride 2017. In addition to listening to BLM, they’ve been consulting with the community and considering varied opinions, including “First Nations groups, people of color, and the trans community.” Black Lives Matter also attended their most recent board meeting on Feb. 21.
Burgess also comments on the hateful responses to the BLM petition.
“There is still a lot of racism in the LGBTQ2+ community and a lot of anti-blackness specifically,” he says, adding that the Vancouver Pride Society wants to keep the discussion about the petition “meaningful and respectful,” and they want to remind people not to divert to racist sentiments.
Suggestions by the VPS to make the parade a safer and more inclusive include representing all civic services equally in the parade, minimal police vehicles and no armored response vehicles in the parade, having police march in plain clothes rather than uniforms, and having police engage further with vulnerable groups and anyone who feels unsafe in the parade.
In an email from the VPD, Constable Jason Doucette explains that the Vancouver Police have taken part in Pride for many years, and they hope to continue with the tradition. Police were unavailable for an interview, but provided a statement from Staff Sergeant Randy Fincham concerning their involvement in the parade.
“The VPD is looking forward to working with our community partners with Black Lives Matter and the Vancouver Pride Society, and unless requested otherwise, have our volunteers and civilian and sworn staff walk with pride for our 21st year in the 2017 Vancouver Pride Parade, to show support for the entire LGBTQ2+ community.”