Canadian Gov’t Denies Funds to Toronto Pride

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday May 12, 2010

In 2009, Canada's conservative government denied a gay arts festival in Montreal grant money from a "Marquis Tourism Events Program" purse, following a controversy in which former tourism minister Diane Ablonczy handed a check from the stimulus fund for more than $350,000 to Toronto Pride. Ablonczy lost the post of tourism minister, with a fellow lawmaker, Industry Minister Tony Clement, taking over the job--and the grant's purse strings.

This year, the administration of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has declined to give any federal funding at all to Toronto Pride. In a separate development, the event has also been threatened with a loss of city funds.

GLBT equality advocates say that the government, which is dominated by conservatives, is showing its homophobic stripes, reported CanWest News Service on May 9. But Clement says that the fund should be shared around, and that after Toronto Pride got money last year, now it should be someone else's turn. Clement also said that he had decided to fund a maximum of two events in any given major city, with more funds being reserved for smaller cities.

"Quite frankly, the [Toronto] pride parade is a successful event. In our estimation, it needed the money less," Clement told the Canadian media. "There's nothing more to it than that. I'm sure there are people yelling and screaming about possible motives, but I'm telling you what I'm telling you."

"Nowhere on the application form did it mention anything about a cap on funding," noted Tracey Sandilords, the executive director of Pride Toronto. "The application form was the same as last year. We're very disappointed."

Last year's shift in tourism ministry responsibilities from Ablonczy to Clement was viewed by some as a punishment for Ablonczy haven given Grand Marquee stimulus money to Toronto Pride, but conservative Minister of Parliament Brad Trost said that Clement was due to take up those responsibilities in due time anyway, with Ablonczy only temporarily in charge of tourism matters.

But Trost also told anti-gay religious web site LifeSiteNews.com--which, in a July 6, 2009, article, called Toronto Pride a "notorious" event that featured public nudity took place--that, "The pro-life and the pro-family community should know and understand that the tourism funding money that went to the gay pride parade in Toronto was not government policy, was not supported by--I think it's safe to say by a large majority--of the MPs." Added Trost, "This was a very isolated decision."

Saying that the funding resulted from "sloppiness" rather than any ideological shift, Trost declared, "It shouldn't be deemed to have been a change in Party policy," and added, "Most of the caucus is still strongly pro-traditional marriage." Noting that the responsibility of funding cultural events through the government fund had been reassigned to a different minister, Trost said at the time that, "The whole tourism program and funding for major tourism events is being reviewed."

The LifeSiteNews article quoted the national coordinator of an anti-abortion group, Mary Ellen Douglas, as saying, "I'm glad they're owning up to a very grave error here."

A member of the same organization, Jeff Gunnarson, whose group the Campaign for Life Coalition has launched a petition drive for laws providing for "legal protection for unborn babies from the moment of conception/fertilization to natural death," was quoted in the article as saying, "Given the fact that the Conservative government supports marriage as a union of one man and one woman in Section 68 iii of their Policy Declaration, I am concerned that they find it prudent to give nearly half a million dollars to a group that diametrically opposes that very section of the policy."

Marriage equality has been legal in Canada since 2005.


Divers/Cité Also Denied

A subsequent gay arts event in Montreal was denied any funding from the Grand Marquee program, prompting accusations of homophobia. In the July 26, 2009, edition of Now Magazine, Susan G. Cole wrote, "It's very clear what Stephen Harper and his Tory bigots think about queer-related events in this country."

Cole reported that, "Montreal's Divers/Cité festival, a queer arts festival, was informed that its application for Marquis Tourism funding was rejected, even though it met all the program's criteria, at least according to government marketing director Paul Girard."

Cole reference the Ablonczy flap and the government's explanation that Clement had always been slated to take on the tourism ministry duties, but she expressed skepticism, stating, "Craparama." Invited Cole, "Check out the official site entitled Canada's Economic Action Plan and what it has to say about the Marquee Tourism Events Project that gave that dough to Toronto's Pride." Noted Cole, "Toronto's Pride Event isn't even listed among the organizations that were funded. It was eliminated, made invisible, clear evidence of the feds' homophobia."

Cole went on to claim, "Toronto's Pride event is only the largest of its kind on the planet--including San Francisco and New York--drawing a million people and many more dollars into the city." Added Cole, "The grants in question are supposed to go to events that are major tourist attractions. Isn't a million people enough?"

But the issue was not controversial only to GLBTs. The politically prickly province of Quebec was inclined to see the denial of funds to Montreal's Divers/Cité event as a slap against the Quebecois themselves, according to a July 24, 2009, National Post article by John Moore.

The article, titled "How Badly Do the Tories Want to Lose Quebec?," claimed, "The Tories are not merely demonstrating a tin ear for the province they once courted with Machiavellian guile, they seem to be actively giving it the finger."
After recounting that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had initially seemed to have a knack for pleasing Quebec, the article went on to note, "During the last election campaign, the Prime Minister trotted out what should have been a gimme talking point for winning over ordinary Joes: the notion of the arts as a snobby, urban frippery.

"To his surprise, Quebecers, who regard culture as classless, reacted negatively," the article added. "He dug himself a deeper trench by dismissing the whole affair as 'a niche issue,'" the article continued. "As Churchill might have said, 'some issue, some niche.' "


Toronto Threatens to Pull City Funds

Toronto Pride also faces a threatened loss of city funds for this year's event. The 2009 edition of Toronto Pride included a group called Queers Against Israel Apartheid, a pro-Palestine organization that drew fire from Toronto city councilor Giorgio Mammoliti, who was quoted in an April 29 story at Xtra! as saying, "I'll give 'em till midnight tonight. If they [QuAIA] don't withdraw from the parade, I'll be drafting up a motion at the next city council meeting asking to get rid of the funding this year completely and any resources that are associated with it. If we've already given any money to the parade, we'll be asking for it back."

Mammoliti, who is also a candidate for the office of mayor of Toronto, proceeded to submit a motion to revoke city funds from the event on May 11 and 12, according to an official city council document.

"Councillor Mammoliti, seconded by Councillor Shiner, recommends that: 1. City Council direct the City Clerk to advise the Pride organizers that the City of Toronto's 2010 funding and support will be revoked if Pride Toronto does not invoke the City of Toronto's anti-discriminating policies and if Queers Against Israel Apartheid participates in this year's Pride Parade," reads the Notice of Motion.

"Over the last number of years, Pride's organizers have allowed a controversial anti-Israel group calling itself Queers Against Israel Apartheid (QuAIA) to march in the Pride Parade," the Notice text reads elsewhere in the document. "A video, Reclaiming Our Pride, recently created by Lawyer Martin Gladstone shows footage from the 2009 parade where QuAIA marchers carried signs condemning Israel with their members chanting the slogan, "Fist by Fist, Blow by Blow, Apartheid State, Has Got to Go."

Xtra! reported that Pride Toronto had announced a plan to review signs for offensive slogans, but had reversed itself when the decision proved unpopular.

The group includes Jewish members who do not see QuAIA as promoting hatred, reported Jewish news site JTA.com on April 22. "They're trying to compare it to hate speech, and I find it deeply offensive, as somebody who's been fighting human rights battles for a really long time, to hear that criticism of the State of Israel is somehow hate speech," said Jewish member Elle Flanders. "No way."

Adult filmmaker Michael Lucas, who made the erotic film Men of Israel, wrote an op-ed for Advocate.com on Oct. 5, 2009, in which he questioned gays standing up for Palestine. "If you are queer and for Palestine it means that you are for the stoning of gay people," wrote Lucas. It means that you are for the torturing and disfigurement of gay people. You are for the brutal harassment and "honor killings" of gay people -- because these are the things that Palestinians do to us."

Lucas, whose op-ed commented on another group called Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism (QUIT), went on to say, "What makes QUIT and their slogan 'Queers for Palestine' such foolish rhetoric is that these gay people's affinity for Palestine is clearly unrequited. If these 'queers' want to march around with their delusional banners for Palestine then they are free to make that irrational mistake. But do they think Palestine is for them? Queers for Palestine = laughable. Palestine for queers = horrendous torture and death."

Mammoliti framed the issue of QuAIA participating in the Pride event as one of anti-Semitic hate speech. "I'm very uncomfortable with a group like this alienating Israelis in this city, and I don't think the taxpayers should be funding any organization that promotes clear discrimination against any one group," Mammoliti told Xtra!

But Queers Against Israel Apartheid member Tim McCaskell expressed uncertainty about the mayoral candidate's message that he was simply acting to ensure that the event did not promote anti-Semitic hatred, referencing a remark that Mammoliti had made that struck many as homophobic. Said McCaskell, "I've been a gay activist long enough to remember when Mammoliti argued in Parliament against same-sex equality legislation on the grounds that our 'body parts don't fit together,' " says McCaskell.

Mammoliti made that comment while he was a conservative provincial MP in Ontario (a similar office to a state senator in the U.S.). Xtra! recalled that in 1994 Mammoliti spoke against a measure to provide family benefits to the partners of gays and lesbians, giving voice to "a paranoid rant conflating the adoption of children, polygamy, S&M and sex toys in a future society a century from now. His vision was met with heckling from his own caucus, leading him to weakly declare, 'I am not a gay basher,' before crossing the floor to the Liberal party."

Mammoliti shrugged that long-ago incident off, saying, "I have learned from my past mistakes," and adding, "what better voice than my voice to be saying this based on my past mistakes?"

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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