So, another Pride Week has come and gone in Toronto and all I can ask is:
Where were the flaming police cars? Where were the mass arrests? Where was the round the clock media coverage of the end of civil society? Where was the $1.1 billion in government spending?
I'll tell you, the G20 beat Pride Week hands down on all these counts. Pride Toronto has something to learn about what to do with a crowd of people.
Rob Ford excused himself from the events to go to the cottage for the Canada Day holiday, which apparently was part of a 10-day weekend. Must be nice being the mayor of some; I only got the Friday off. Here's hoping he stayed there, and just has his paycheques forwarded. The city (or at a minimum its image) would benefit more than when he actually comes to work. I'll take Mel Lastman in a blizzard any day.
Giorgio Mammoliti on the other hand, is way more focused on the Pride Week events. He is claiming we need to get back about $300,000 in City of Toronto funding and services because of political messages displayed in the Dyke March by the group Dykes and Trans People for Palestine. I'm surprised it was just Giorgio and his camera, and that the cops weren't there to take them down. I thought we were supposed to learn our lesson about public political expression after June 2010.
Giorgio is a loyal friend of the mayor's, but I think that in this case he's barking up the wrong tree. I find this part of a city background document in 2010 interesting as it relates to another controversial group, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid:
"To date, the phrase 'Israeli Apartheid' has not been found to violate either the Criminal
Code or the Human Rights Code (Ontario). However, a decision on the latter would have
to be made by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario."
The only banner I have seen from the Dyke March is one that said "Free Palestine". Do we really want to spend legal fees chasing this one? I suggest we'll spend at least $300,000 trying to prove that there was hate speech at this event. I'm interested to see what advice counsel has for our Council on the subject. I sense Rob and George really don't have a lot of "mammo."
On the other side of the argument, I don't see how Dykes and Trans People for Palestine benefited either. I still don't know what their message is, or why it is different from any of the many other groups that advocate for the rights of people living in Gaza. I'd suggest they got as much of a result as the people taunting Ford in absentia; that is to say, nothing. One thing about big events like Pride Week is that they are great for business (by Toronto Pride's reckoning that grants and services to help put on Pride Week generates about $40 million in revenues for Toronto businesses) but lousy forums for political ideas of any stripe.
As for Councillor Mammoliti and Mayor Ford, they're opening up a huge issue here. I did some research, and found this other group called "Yonge-Dundas Square." The city budget documents for 2011 claim $515,000 in funding for such activities as:
- The Santa Claus Parade. This is a public homage to a mythical figure that the majority of people know is figment of the collective imagination. Moreover, it is one many cultures do not acknowledge (Hanukkah anyone?).
- Luminato, which this year featured a free performance by prominent vegetarian and animal rights activist K.D. Lang.
- Just For Laughs, where comedians say stuff that might not be funny to all people, and maybe even "offensive".
Outside of such special events, Yonge-Dundas Square claims to operate a space where there can be "protests", and "non-permitted casual gatherings" (I believe that means people can hang out together without paperwork). What kind of government-sponsored anarchy is that? How has this car on the gravy train not been de-coupled or at least had Conductor Mammoliti give it the once over with a video camera?
Pride Toronto received approximately $150,000 in city funding. That's about a third of what Yonge-Dundas Square's operating budget. Could it be that despite the benefits to the local economy of such events, the real issue that the mayor and his Mammo are pushing is that they don't think public money should go to support any of them? It could be a debate worth having. The activities of both Yonge-Dundas Square and Pride Toronto are also supported through private funding from things like sponsorships; perhaps these events should be able to stand on their own economic merits without subsidies from public sources.
I sincerely hope that's where this is heading. Either that, or we allow these small sections of the gravy train to keep rolling while we sit back and enjoy the ride.