News / Vancouver

'We are sorry' says Pride Society, condemns 'racist backlash' against Black Lives Matter

Under fire from duelling pro- and anti-cop petitions, Pride Parade planners pitch idea of police in t-shirts, fewer vehicles.

Marchers carry a giant rainbow flag on Robson Street during the Vancouver Pride Parade in 2014.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Marchers carry a giant rainbow flag on Robson Street during the Vancouver Pride Parade in 2014.

Vancouver Pride Society apologized after Black Lives Matter-Vancouver — which has campaigned to remove police from the Pride Parade — brought written evidence to a meeting Tuesday of a "racist backlash, hate mail, death threats and other forms of violence" it had faced because of its campaign.

The Society, which organizes the annual LGBTQ parade, received two competing petitions this month over an issue which has ignited divisions and painful conversations in the community.

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In its response on Wednesday afternoon, Pride said racism was "absolutely not acceptable" and acknowledged "we have not been quick to act in the past, and for this we are sorry," and recognized violence and discrimination faced by people of colour.

"The Parade in 2017 needs to be different to make everyone feel safer, so we have made some suggestions," Pride stated. "These were inspired by Black Lives Matter Vancouver … as well as community consultations that have taken place over the past six months."

Black Lives Matter's petition argued the large presence of uniformed police officers made vulnerable marchers of colour feel unsafe. Then a counter-petition, created by several stalwarts of the LGBTQ community, asked police to remain because of the "positive" relationship they said was built over decades with cops in the city.

The anti-racist group hosted a Facebook live broadcast on Wednesday night to discuss its meeting with Pride.

"We brought screenshots to show the level of racism and death threats that we were receiving so they could get a better idea," said organizer Cicely-Belle Blaine in the video. "If you’re not black, you don’t know anti-blackness.

"… A lot of people criticizing BLM are saying 'but the police are here to serve and protect' — but they don’t protect black people."

She added that the "conversation about this was a partial success, although our main goal was not achieved … to remove police from the Pride Parade."

In its letter, Vancouver Pride Society suggested compromises allowing police to march, but less prominently: proposals included inviting police to march in plainclothes perhaps in t-shirts; reducing the "footprint" or space taken by police as a proportion of municipal staff, and reducing the number of vehicles, including not permitting armoured vehicles. It also proposed "talking circles" to encourage police to have "meaningful engagement with vulnerable populations."

At time of publication, the Society's post on Facebook had generated 142 "likes" — including from Black Lives Matter-Vancouver itself, and just one angry face.

One commenter noted, "Listening to people's concerns and proposing a reasonable compromise? How very un-2017 of you," Peter McCartney said. "Well done."

Meanwhile, Vancouver police Chief Const. Adam Palmer told Metro he feels confident in the department's "great relationship" the force has worked towards with the LGBTQ community "for many, many years."

"We've been marching in that parade since 1997," Palmer said, "so for 20 years we've always been well received … We're happy to continue our dialogue with them and try to work through these issues."

He added that he would not say more as "it's not something I want to play out in the media — I'd rather just sit down and talk directly."

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