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Pride organizers appeal for more funding as rising security costs could dampen festivities

Rising security costs and heightened safety concerns have some Pride organizers worried that Canadian events will have to scale back this year.

Earlier this week, Pride Toronto announced it may need to cut programming at this year’s festival as it wrestles with major cost increases for policing and insurance just weeks ahead of the event.

Chris Kennedy, a spokesperson and board member of the national umbrella organization Fierté Canada Pride, said other cities — both big and small — are also facing challenges.

“It’s just as much of a concern for our more rural and more remote pride communities as well,” he said in an interview.

Kennedy said the cost of hiring security (whether they are police or private security) as well as material costs have all gone up.

At the same time, many Pride events are looking to expand after several years of scaled back events due to the pandemic.

Vancouver has switched to what it says is a more accessible route, with wider sidewalks, fewer hills and closer to public transit. Toronto extended its parade route and added a new 1,000-person beer garden, which police said contributed to the increased service fee.

“When you open your footprint a little bit larger, that comes with more added expense as well,” Kennedy said.

Those added expenses come amid a rise in threats toward two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (2SLGBTQ) people.

Concerns in U.S., and in Canada

The problem is particularly acute in the United States, but organizers in Canada say they are also concerned about a growing toxic climate.

The latest hate crimes report from Statistics Canada noted a 64 per cent increase in cases targeting individuals for their sexual orientation.

As well, the Pride flag has become a subject of controversy, with the Ontario township of Norwich deciding not to fly the flag on municipal property.

“It is starting to flow its way into Canada,” said Barry Karlenzig, president and chair of Winnipeg Pride.

“We have added extra security … which does increase costs as well, because we want to make sure that people feel safe to be their authentic self.”

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Last year, Karlenzig said his non-profit had budgeted for a three-to-five per cent increase due to inflation, but saw a rise in security costs of more than 15 per cent.

He said he’s still waiting for the final pricing for security this year, with the event only a week away on June 4.

In the case of Toronto, the organization said insurance cost the group $60,000 for 2022, but the cost this year is up to $278,000. The cost for police, meanwhile, climbed from $62,000 last year to a $186,000 price tag for 2023.

In Montreal, organizers are planning to bring back the parade this year after last year’s parade had to be cancelled at the last minute over security concerns. Organizers had failed to hire enough volunteers to help secure the route.

‘Still very much a protest’

Given these increased challenges, Kennedy said Pride groups will need additional public funding to help offset the costs.

“I lean on the federal, provincial and municipal governments to step up to the plate to join us as allies and really provide that funding and that support so that we’re able to make those changes,” Kennedy said.

“As a non-profit organization, it’s very hard to budget when you’re using a cost of inflation and then after you find out a month before your event, or three weeks before your event oh, PS, here’s your overinflated security pricing.”

Two people dance
Florence, left, and Billie dance at the site where the Montreal Pride parade was supposed to start last Aug. 7. Festival organizers cancelled the parade over concerns for security due to the lack of staff. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

In a statement Friday, Public Safety Canada said it was “deeply concerned about the increase of anti-2SLGBTQI+ hate and the potential impact on the safety of Pride events.” 

Audrey Champoux, a spokesperson for the public safety minister, said the federal government was aware of concerns around rising costs.

Champoux said the federal government “will continue working closely with all partners to ensure that anyone celebrating Pride-related events and festivals can do so safely and inclusively.”

For his part, Kennedy noted that Pride itself began as a march — and a form of protest.

Many organizations are embracing that history and prioritizing people walking on foot rather than floats and vehicles.

“I know a lot of our member organizations are circling back to that building block, that foundation, of what Pride really is for, ” he said.

“It is still very much a protest. It is still very much a march.”

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