Black Lives Matter-Toronto have shown inspiring leadership in confronting anti-Black racism and encouraging a broader radicalization. Now the corporate press, right-wing mayor John Tory and the Toronto police want revenge, and are provoking an attack.
The backlash against Black Lives Matter-Toronto—which has included death threats—is an attack on leading Black queer organizers, an attack on the radical roots of Pride, a continuation of Canada’s long racist history, and an attempt to rehabilitate the image of the repressive police force.
Canada is founded on the colonization of Indigenous territories and the exploitation of Indigenous and Black people. Contrary to Canadian mythology, this country was built on slavery of both Indigenous and Black communities. This systemic racism continues to this day—through huge rates of incarceration, taking children into custody, underfunding of services, and police violence.
Though inspired by Black Lives Matter in the US, Black Lives Matter-Toronto emerged to confront the daily systemic racism that continues to exist in Canada—from carding to police killings. This includes the murders of Jermaine Carby—who police pulled over, shot to death and planted evidence to justify the crime—and Andrew Loku, who police killed in his apartment.
In response, BLM-TO has organized an inspiring series of rallies, marches, occupations and educationals to expose and confront anti-Black racism and its intertwining with other forms of oppression.
Earlier this year BLM-TO organized a two-week occupation in front of police headquarters, challenging the police, the mayor and the provincial government. This occupation built solidarity with Indigenous communities and received widespread solidarity that prevented the police from clearing the occupation.
And the solidarity was reciprocated to support Indigenous activists who occupied offices across the country in response to an epidemic of suicides in Attawapiskat.
It’s thanks to BLM-TO that the Coroner’s inquest found that the police murder of Jermaine Carby was an act of racially-motivated homicide. BLM-TO have also raised the importance of gender and sexual equality, and are led by activists who experience multiple forms of oppression—which is one of the reasons for which they were invited as an honoured guest to the Pride parade.
Pride is political
Canada also has a long history of homophobia and transphobia, from legal to physical attacks—like the Bathhouse raids in 1981. The gay liberation movement was born in protests against police violence—from the Stonewall uprising in New York in 1969, to the march on police headquarters and Queen’s Park after the Bathhouse raids.
As Pride Toronto Grand Marshal Vivek Shraya explained, “There is a disturbing idea that because gay marriage is legal, that the battle has been won for LGBTQ people, but this isn’t the case for so many trans and queer people, especially black, indigenous and trans and queer people of colour. The only reason we get to have a giant gay parade in 2016 is because of protests by black, indigenous and trans and queer people of colour decades ago, not unlike Black Lives Matter’s protest this weekend.”
The police recently “apologized” for the bathhouse raids, but this rhetoric is not matched by reality—especially towards Black and other racialized members of the community. Instead the police are joining the broader trend of depoliticizing and corporatizing Pride.
It’s because of this that BLM-TO raised its demands during the Pride sit-in—from removing police floats to better funding for racialized members of the LGBTQ community—which would make Pride more inclusive.
As BLM-TO co-founder Janaya Khan explained, “Our action was in the tradition of resistance that is Pride. We didn’t halt progress; we made progress… The majority of the leadership within Black Lives Matter – Toronto and Black Lives Matter internationally identify as queer or trans. Pride has always been for the most marginalized, and has always been for us.”
Police and capitalism
This is why the corporate media and police have gone on the offensive against Black Lives Matter. There are accusations that BLM-TO “highjacked” Pride, which erases the experience of Black members of the LGBTQ community. There are ridiculous accusations that Black Lives Matter is responsible for the sniper attacks in Dallas, Texas, which have been used to justify police violence.
Toronto Mayor Tory, who refused to read a one-page report on Jermaine Carby’s murder and refused to meet with BLM-TO, has opportunistically joined the attack saying police should be in Pride—as if it should be up to him to decide who the LGBTQ community invite to the parade.
The police exist to serve the 1% and uphold the inequality on which capitalism is based—including racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, and disability oppression. The police have ignored missing and murdered Indigenous women, carded and killed Black people, and have an ongoing history of repression against the LGBTQ community. The only thing the police “serve and protect” is the private property of the 1%, including bosses who get injunctions against striking workers.
That’s why the problem is not just “a few bad apples” and the police cannot be “reformed.” The police exist to uphold the worst aspects of capitalism. During times of austerity, when jobs and services have been cut, police budgets continue to expand. While homeless people freeze to death every winter in Toronto the police have a billion dollar budget—to repress and to stoke the multiple oppressions that divide the 99%.
Like the responses to the Orlando shooting, there are attempts to artificially separate and divide racialized and LGBTQ communities. As Peter Thompson, Chair of the OPSEU Workers of Colour Caucus warned, “Make no mistake, we are in a crisis, given the rise of far-right and anti-immigrant politics—think of Trump or the right-wing groups like PEGIDA. The question is not whether BLM had the right to raise these issues at Pride but how can we not address racism and hate in the queer community at this time in our history?”
Despite attempts by the corporate press, right-wing mayor and police to falsely separate and sever Black Lives Matter from the LGBTQ community, solidarity has continued.
The Vancouver Dyke March and Parade invited Black Lives Matter to be the grand marshal at the upcoming march, stating: “In light of recent events in Orlando and Toronto, we believe it is more important than ever to ensure that queer spaces in Vancouver are open and welcoming to trans, queer, and allied Black, Indigenous folks and people of colour. The Dyke March is committed to striving for inclusivity and accountability to all members and allies of our community and we are proud to have Black Lives Matter Vancouver leading the march with us this year.”
There has also been solidarity from the labour movement. The Workers’ Action Centre thanked BLM-TO for raising demands that would make Pride better for all: “The actions that BLM TO took were for all of our communities such as the reinstatement of the South Asian Stage, self-determination and organizing for all community spaces in an increasingly corporate controlled event, ensuring funding and space for queer black youth and ensuring employment equity in the hiring from Black and communities of colour. This is about building an inclusive, vibrant and representative celebration of the LGBTQ+ communities that we want.”
CUPE-Ontario supported both the demands and methods of BLM-TO: “In the original tradition of Pride, we salute their use of direct action with clear demands that resulted in positive change for thousands of people in our city. On behalf of our union, we offer not only our thanks, but also our solidarity in our shared fight for justice and equality.”
As Robet Hampsey, Co-Chair of the Rainbow Alliance arc-en-ciel explained, “Pride has always been about social justice, about fighting against police violence and criminalization of queer and racialized communities, about fighting for our lives and for the freedom to live our lives.”