Ottawa LGBT community marks historic Pride parade, but not without controversy

This year’s annual Pride parade in Ottawa on Sunday makes history with two high-profile guests, while another guest may ruffle a few feathers for some in the city’s LGBT community. 

After a week of events to celebrate diversity in the city, the 32nd edition of Capital Pride comes to a close with the marquee event: the Pride parade, and this year is expected to be the biggest one yet. 

This year’s event is also marking an important milestone: it’s the first time a sitting prime minister will march. Organizers announced last week that Justin Trudeau will participate this year after missing the parade in 2016.

The prime minister has walked in other cities’ Pride parades, sometimes with members of his family and usually to boisterous cheers from excited crowds. 

Trudeau Protests 20170820

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during the Montreal Pride parade on Aug. 20. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Another high-profile guest this year is Canada’s top general, Jonathan Vance. The defence chief has said he wants to send a message of solidarity to the LGBT community, and hopes to bring a boost for the military’s recruiting centres. 

He is the first chief of defence staff to march in a Pride parade. 

This comes as some military members south of the border are growing concerned with U.S. President Donald Trump’s move to ban transgender people from being recruited in the military. 

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Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance speaks to the media at Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ont., on March 29. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

Vance told The Canadian Press he was marching to show people in the LGBT community he’s open to all, but insisted his presence at the parade is not political.  

“We want to recruit people from as diverse a segment of society as we can,” he said. “And that includes those LGBTQ folks that would be interested in the Canadian Armed Forces.”

Police chief not wearing uniform this year

But while Vance and Trudeau make history, another top official is marching after sparking some controversy last month. 

When Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau announced he would march wearing his uniform despite calls from organizers not to, he became the target of criticism. At the same time, some in the LGBT community, including some police officers, denounced Capital Pride’s request as abandoning its principles of inclusion. 

‘The whole reason that Pride exists is because of the longstanding history of criminalization of our bodies.’
-— Dillon Black, LGBT social worker

Capital Pride asked police to leave their uniforms and cruisers out of the parade in order to make people of colour feel safe. The request, the group said, was made after months of consultations with people from marginalized communities.

“We’re not asking police to not be present. It’s just asking them to not be wearing that uniform and that symbol of institutional discrimination that has been around for so long,” Dillon Black, an LGBT social worker, told CBC News in July. 

Ottawa Police pride cruiser

Ottawa police were asked to keep their cruisers out of Pride events this year. (Twitter/@DRRMatters)

Tension between members of the black community and police has been especially high following the death of Abdirahman Abdi, a Somali-Canadian man, she said.

After weeks of public statements from Capital Pride and police, Bordeleau backtracked from his pledge to wear the police uniform and instead announced he would wear an Ottawa Police Service golf shirt. 

Bordeleau wrote in a news release that he hopes his decision “shows our commitment to continue listening and building trust with the diverse communities we serve.”

Leila Moumouni-Tchouassi, a black activist who has worked with Capital Pride on including the black community, said whether officers wear their uniforms or something else that identifies them as police members, the symbolism remains.

The parade begins at 1:30 p.m. ET and is expected to draw thousands of people to the downtown core.

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