HALIFAX — Moving to avoid a Toronto-style conflict, Halifax's police force says it will not participate in the city's Pride parade this year.
Halifax Regional Police said the decision was made after several months of discussions with Halifax Pride, and took into consideration the "national debate" about law enforcement involvement in such events.
Chief Jean-Michel Blais said the police service might have contributed to divisions in the Pride community had it participated in the parade.
"We recognize that as a result of what we've seen elsewhere in the country, specifically in Toronto, as well as what we've heard here locally, that there were some concerns about police presence in the parade," said Blais at a news conference Monday.
Revellers participate in the annual Halifax Pride parade in Halifax on Saturday, July 23, 2016. (Photo: Darren Calabrese/CP)
"In our view, stepping away temporarily from the parade will best support the LGBT2Q+ to help for allow for meaningful discussion of the issue."
Last month, Pride Toronto members voted to ostensibly ban official police floats from marches and parades, adopting a list of demands put forward by that city's chapter of Black Lives Matter.
The list of requests from the advocacy group has been the source of controversy and polarization within the community since the 2016 Pride parade, during which the group staged a half-hour sit-in to present their list of demands.
Halifax Pride executive director Adam Reid said he believes the Halifax force is the first in Canada to take such an approach.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer Dave Thibeau, right, embraces his niece Angele Thibeau, who is gay, after the two saw each other at the 2016 Halifax Pride parade. (Photo: Darren Calabrese/CP)
"I think it demonstrates that (Halifax Regional Police) is a partner that understands community concerns," said Reid, although he would not elaborate on what those concerns are specifically.
"It's a debate that's going on locally and across the country ... and I think it's a really great opportunity for the community, no matter what they think of the decision, to take a look at what that debate is and examine everyone's point of view."
The force said it would be involved in other Pride activities, to be determined through consultation with the community, such as a barbecue or public lecture.
Uniformed officers have participated in the annual Pride parade for at least the last 10 years, said Blais.
"It's a debate that's going on locally and across the country..."
He said he will still be walking in this year's parade with other Halifax Regional Municipality officials in a T-shirt or golf shirt emblazoned with the force's logo. He added that other officers are welcome to participate in the parade in plain clothes.
The force's future participation in parades will be assessed on an ongoing basis, he said.
Last year's Toronto parade ground to a halt and only resumed when Pride Toronto's then-executive director Matthieu Chantelois signed the list of demands that included better representation for racialized communities during Pride events, and a ban on police floats in future parades.
He later told the media that he only did so in order to get the event moving again. Chantelois resigned about a month later amid allegations of racism and harassment in the workplace.
Pride Toronto issued an apology in September for what it described as a "history of anti-blackness" and "repeated marginalization of the marginalized," pledging at that time to honour the promises made to Black Lives Matter.