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Winnipeg Pride Festival ends, police open to consultations

With Winnipeg’s Pride Festival now over, planning for next year and talks with Winnipeg Police can begin.

Anna, 6, watches Winnipeg's 30th annual pride parade with friends and family.

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Anna, 6, watches Winnipeg's 30th annual pride parade with friends and family.

After the confetti, feathers and rainbow-coloured everything settles from the whirlwind that was Winnipeg’s 30th annual Pride Parade, Jonathan Niemczak gets back to work.

“We start planning the next festival two weeks after this (Pride Week) ends,” said Niemczak, Winnipeg Pride president.

Leading the parade through downtown Winnipeg on Sunday, Niemczek noted a record number of entries — 103 registered walking groups and vehicles to last year’s 92.

Niemczak said this year’s event featured “a lot of changes,” and likewise, planning for next year will involve “seeing what more we can do to make Pride better and more reflective of what the community wants.”

For example, he said the police presence at Pride is one hot-button issue that needs to be revaluated annually.

This past weekend, members of the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) marched without their uniforms and equipment for the first time since officers began marching in the parade.

Leaving their uniforms at home Sunday complied with a request Pride Winnipeg put forward after consulting the Pride community and stakeholder groups.

One third of 600 online survey respondents did not want police in the parade or requested no uniform, while another third were comfortable with the LGBTQ community’s existing relationship with police or had no strong opinion.

Beyond the question of uniforms, Pride Winnipeg and local stakeholders invited the WPS to take “a more active role in consulting and listening” to their community moving forward.

About midway through the parade lineup, WPS Insp. Gord Friesen and a handful of officers marched in white T-shirts emblazoned with rainbow hearts.

Friesen said the WPS has agreed to hold consultations with Pride Winnipeg to discuss how relationships between police and the LGBTQ community can improve.

Friesen said improved understanding needs to extend from both sides, adding the WPS has already undergone bias-free training to help officers recognize and deal with “biases that we, as human beings, inherently have.”

Despite the controversy, Friesen said concerns raised before the parade led to “conversations with the community that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

“I see it as a step forward,” he said. 

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