02/10/2017 10:05 EST

Toronto Police Won't March In Pride Parade

A Black Lives Matter spokesperson said the police are trying to "flip the narrative."

Toronto's police chief said Friday that his force will not participate in this year's Pride parade, pointing to divisions within the LGBTQ community as a reason for his decision.

Chief Mark Saunders said the move "will have no impact'' on the force's ongoing outreach to LGBTQ communities.

"We understand the LGBTQ communities are divided,'' he said in a statement. "To enable those differences to be addressed, I have decided the Toronto Police Service will not participate, this year, in the Pride parade.''

The city's Pride parade last summer was interrupted by a protest from Black Lives Matter and only resumed when Pride Toronto's then-executive director Matthieu Chantelois signed a list of demands put forth by the group that included a ban on police floats in future parades.

Black Lives Matter march during the 2016 Toronto Pride parade along Yonge Street. (Photo: Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Chantelois later said he only agreed to the demands in order to get the parade moving again.

The issue was thrown under the spotlight once again last month, when members voted at Pride Toronto's annual general meeting to adopt a set of Black Lives Matter demands, including the banning of police floats from Pride marches and parades.

It remained unclear at the time, however, what, if any, kind of police presence would be welcome at the parade.

On Friday, Pride Toronto suggested the police force's decision not to participate in the parade was a positive development.

"Pride Toronto is committed to continuing the important dialogue that has taken place with our membership and the broader community. We are listening. We will listen. What we have seen from the Toronto Police Service is that they are also listening,'' the organization said in a statement.

"Their actions reflect a commitment to continuing the conversation with our community to move forward.''

Pride Toronto emphasized, however, that members of Toronto police were still welcome to march in the parade "as members or allies'' of the community.

"This festival, this movement, must continue to belong to everyone in our community,'' it said. "We continue to hope that together we can move forward as an organization, as a community and as a city.''

Black Lives Matter Toronto interrupted the city's Pride Parade last summer. (Photo: Toronto Star via Getty Images)

But the Toronto chapter of Black Lives — which has been at the centre of the controversy over police participation in the parade — said it was disappointed with Saunders' statement.

"They are trying to flip the narrative and make it seem as if they are choosing to pull out of Pride when in fact they were uninvited,'' said spokesperson Syrus Marcus Ware.

Marcus Ware said they are frustrated that Saunders' statement makes no mention of issues such as "anti-blackness and policing'' and carding — a controversial practice of street checks that the group says unfairly targets young black, brown and indigenous people.

Saunders said Friday that Toronto police would continue to develop respectful relationships with trans and racialized communities, promising to sit down with ``any group who feels marginalized, who comes to the table with ideas on how to make things better.''

Members of the Toronto Police Service dance to the Village People's song YMCA during the annual Pride Parade at Dundas and Yonge Streets on July 3, 2016. (Photo: Michael Hudson/CP)

In addition, he said, Toronto police will continue to hold its annual Pride reception.

The chief's decision comes just days after Halifax's police force said it would not participate in that 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 police involvement in such events.

The local police chief cited Toronto specifically as an example of a city where there had been concerns about police presence in pride parades.

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