Opinion Column

The Duel

Police at Pride? No tanks

By Garth Mullins, The Duel

The Vancouver Police Department's armoured response vehicle  is seen in a file photo.

The Vancouver Police Department's armoured response vehicle is seen in a file photo.

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This week's question: Should uniformed law enforcement be welcome to march in gay pride parades?

One day a year, smiling police officers dance on parade floats and shoot water pistols at the crowd.

The rest of the year, it’s business as usual. People of colour, indigenous and trans people experience disproportionate levels of police carding, profiling, harassment, detention, violence and even death in custody. Understandably, many don’t feel safe around police.

That’s why Black Lives Matter asked that uniformed police not march in various Pride events across North America.

Uniformed police didn’t march in Toronto Pride. But they will in August in Vancouver, where police even used to drive a tank-like armoured response vehicle in the parade. In 2016, BLM Vancouver declared victory when police conceded to leave the tank in the garage.

Read Brent Stafford's column here.

Pride came out of police repression in the first place.

Police harassment of the community was common. Morality squads raided community-gathering places, such as Toronto bathhouses, Montreal's Sex Garage and New York’s Stonewall Inn. By 1969, Stonewall patrons had had enough. They rioted for three days, touching off the North American LGBTQ movement.

During the Cold War, government viewed being gay as a national security risk. The RCMP investigated thousands of men working in the military and government. Mounties used a bizarre test for homosexuality they called the “fruit machine.” It was junk science. But hundreds were fired anyway.

And it’s not all in the past. In recent years, Ontario police charged 22 people under section 159 of the Criminal Code, long used to criminalize gay sex.

Some say Pride is getting too political. But this is just a return to its radical roots, which have been somewhat overshadowed by corporate floats and politician photo ops.

In 2015, Vancouver organizers said the governing B.C. Liberals couldn’t march in the parade because they opposed protecting trans people under the province’s human rights code.

Asking uniformed police not to march is no different. It can make things safer for community members who regularly experience police violence. It is an act of solidarity — putting them first, ahead of a uniform that represents a history of repression.

I remember some early Pride events in Canadian cities, where sometimes there were only a couple dozen of us marching — gawkers jeering from the sidelines. Even in 2008, we had to defend Vancouver’s East Side Pride from a group of Nazi skinheads.

Pride has always been political.

Garth Mullins is a broadcaster, activist, writer, musician and trade unionist. He’s at www.garthmullins.com or @garthmullins.