Toronto Star: Queers Against Israeli Apartheid allowed to march in Toronto Pride Parade

Toronto Star, June 29, 2012

A wall mimicking Israel’s West Bank separation barrier will be marched down the streets of Toronto at the Pride Parade on Sunday — all covered in flaming pink graffiti.

Pride Toronto’s dispute resolution panel dismissed a complaint Friday from the League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith, allowing Queers Against Israeli Apartheid to march in the parade under their standard and with an 8-metre grey wall-like banner.
“We’re delighted that the panel made its decision the way it did,” said Tim McCaskell, a member of the group. “It shows that the term ‘Israeli apartheid’ is really part of the public debate, and it can’t be silenced without infringing on Charter rights.”

The term refers to Israeli government polices that give Palestinians and Israelis different rights, said McCaskell.

In its complaint, B’nai Brith said the group’s messaging and use of the expression “Israeli apartheid” violate the city’s anti-discrimination policy, and that its activities were contrary to the core mission and policies of Pride Toronto.

After hearing representations from both sides on Tuesday, the dispute resolution panel found no violation or contradiction. The panel was chaired by Toronto lawyer Robert Coates, and included lawyers Maurice Green and Raja Khouri.

“Needless to say, we’re disappointed,” said Anita Bromberg, B’nai Brith’s national director of legal affairs. “The focus now would be to turn to the city and get a policy that’s clear, that will end up with a decision that we think that Torontonians want for a publicly funded event.”

Bromberg said the expression “Israeli apartheid” targets supporters of the Jewish state, and “it’s become a licence to discriminate.” She added it’s against what the Pride Parade stands for, which is to celebrate inclusion.

McCaskell, who calls himself a “gay activist dinosaur” who’s been rallying for human rights and gay rights since the 1970s, disagrees.

“Pride is a very broad tent. People may disagree with each other on a whole range of issues but we’re all queer and we all face homophobia and transphobia,” he said. “This is an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to human rights, not just for gay people, but for everyone.”

The complaint, which could have barred the group from marching had it been allowed, came despite city manager Joe Pennachetti’s report in 2011 stating the group does not violate the city’s anti-discrimination policy, and that “there is no legal precedent” to suggest the phrase “Israeli apartheid” constitutes a hate crime or a violation of the provincial human rights code.

This was the dispute resolution panel’s first complaint. The panel was created in 2011 to hear concerns and complaints against march participants.

“The issue was a difficult one for many people,” said Kevin Beaulieu, Pride Toronto’s executive director. “While it might not resolve all the issues for everyone, it does give us the clarity needed to move ahead in the festival.”

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