Duelling petitions argue over police presence in Vancouver Pride

Black Lives Matter activists do not believe uniformed police officers should march in parade

A group of LGBTQ activists will hand over a petition today to the Vancouver Pride Society, arguing there is a place for uniformed police officers in the city’s annual Pride Parade. With more than 2,600 signees, the message is a direct response to Black Lives Matter Vancouver after the anti-oppression activists launched a petition of their own calling for the removal of uniformed police from the parade.

On Feb. 7, BLMV started their petition, pointing out the parade is a protest that began, in part, as a reaction to institutionalized oppression and homophobia as well as police brutality. While recognizing the Vancouver Police Department plays an important role of law enforcement and crowd control during the parade, they want all uniformed police, including VPD and RCMP officers, out of the celebrations.

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“We look forward to this voluntary withdrawal from the parade itself as a symbolic gesture and actual sign of support for [people of colour] and black communities, and an attempt to bridge the divide that the effects of institutionalized racism impose on our daily lives,” reads a portion of the petition.

Last year, BLMV and the VPD negotiated the removal of the armoured police vehicle from the parade, but BLM did not succeed in their request uniformed officers not march. In Toronto, activists staged a sit-in and stopped that city’s parade for nearly half an hour and presented eight demands that have since been adopted by the Pride Society, including the removal of police floats and uniformed marchers.

Former VPD officer Lorimer Shenher wrote in support of the removal of police from the parade and more leniency for Black Lives Matter activists.

Writing in online newsmagazine, the National Observer, Shenher proposed the same compromise: “For the necklace-tossing, candy-throwing, parade-marching cops, keep them in plainclothes just like the bank tellers, politicians and artists. After all, you’re a person first and a cop second, right?”

As an LGBTQ officer himself, Shenher said it’s the institution, not the individual, that is the symbol of oppression and racism.

“That uniform carries with it the weight of thousands of children removed from indigenous families throughout Canada’s history. It represents hundreds of non-white people stopped and frisked without legal grounds simply because of their skin colour. That uniform carries with it the abuse and intimidation of LGBTQ people, sex workers, mentally ill people, economically vulnerable people, many forced onto the streets to interact with police often, sometimes with bad results,” he wrote.

The pro-police counter-petition, titled “Our Pride Includes Our Police,” quickly garnered thousands of signatures, nearly three times the 875 that have so far signed on in support of Black Lives Matter.

The creators of the petition allege the racism on display in the U.S. and parts of Eastern Canada does not reflect reality in Vancouver.

Black Lives Matter grew in response to police shootings and violence against unarmed black men, women and children.

In Vancouver, the first gay and lesbian police liaison committee was created at the VPD in 1977, and police have marched in the Vancouver Pride Parade since 2002.

“The visible involvement of the Vancouver Police Department and the RCMP in the parade,” states the counter-petition, “signifies the progress we have made in our struggle for LGBTQ equality.”

The petition was created by Velvel Steele, a trans and sex worker rights advocate, Gordon Hardy, a co-founder of the city’s Gay Liberation Front, Sandy-Leo Laframbois, a trans activist and Métis two-spirit elder, and gay journalist Kevin Dale McKeown.

The initial Black Lives Matter petition is here.

The response petition is here.

mstewart@vancourier.com

Twitter: @MHStewart

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