Pride Toronto took $250K federal grant to mark controversial milestone, bolster ties with police

Pride Toronto took $250K federal grant to mark controversial milestone, bolster ties with police-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Uniformed police officers have been excluded from participating in Toronto’s Pride parade since 2017. New documents show Pride Toronto’s leaders were poised to drop that ban as they sought federal grant money. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press)

Pride Toronto took in $250,000 of federal grant money to commemorate a contentious milestone in Canada’s LGBTQ history with hopes of improving relations with police — even though a majority of its membership continued to oppose having uniformed officers march in the country’s largest Pride parade, CBC News has learned.

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After pushback from the community, the organization and federal officials reworked the contract so some of those taxpayer dollars could instead be spent on programs Pride Toronto ran before the grant was even awarded in 2018.

The organization’s members, meanwhile, weren’t told where the money went, while high-profile projects — including having renowned artist Kent Monkman create paintings honouring the two-spirit community — fell through.

“They’ve kept this a secret and that’s a problem,” said Tom Hooper, a historian and member of the community who obtained documents outlining the process.

“Who is Pride responsible to, if they’re not responsible to me as a member and as a historian of our community?”

The revelations raise questions about why Pride Toronto, which barred uniformed police officers from marching in the parade in 2017 following a Black Lives Matter Toronto protest at the previous year’s summer event, was willing to compromise its stance on that issue. It also raises questions about why taxpayer money was used to cover prior expenses for programming from a year where the non-profit was facing a nearly $700,000 deficit.

Tom Hooper-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Tom Hooper said Pride Toronto’s grant application amounts to revisionist history. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Pride Toronto, which has changed leadership since the deal with the Department of Canadian Heritage was signed, acknowledged to CBC News in an email statement that “communications with members has much more room for improvement.”

Finance offered to pay for grant before Pride Toronto applied

Access to information records, obtained by Hooper and reviewed by CBC News, show federal Finance officials told Canadian Heritage they would transfer $250,000 to cover costs of the project before Pride Toronto even submitted an application for the grant.

A spokesperson for the Finance Department declined to comment on why it did that.

Canadian Heritage awarded Pride Toronto the grant in November 2018. The initial grant was set to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, which decriminalized homosexual acts between men aged 21 and older in 1969.

Pride Toronto’s proposal included an opening gala commemorating that anniversary, the development of an educational website, and the creation of a national council made up of police chiefs and LGBTQ community organizations from across Canada to improve relations between the two groups.

Black Lives Matter Toronto, 2016 Pride parade-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
A sit-in protest by Black Lives Matter Toronto at the 2016 Pride parade led to the banning of uniformed police officers and their vehicles from the parade. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press)

The document states Pride Toronto is “particularly targeting police services in celebration,” and one of the project’s stated goals was to “further better relationships with police services.”

The grant application framed the anniversary as the decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada, but Hooper said that amounts to revisionist history because police crackdowns on the LGBTQ community continued for years after 1969 — most notably the city’s bathhouse raids of 1981, where 200 officers raided four gay-friendly establishments and charged 286 men, most of whom were not convicted.

“If decriminalization had actually occurred in 1969, we wouldn’t have had these massive bathhouse raids in 1981,” Hooper told CBC News.

“Over 300 men were arrested under the Criminal Code — all for being gay.”

Those bathhouse raids were the context under which Pride Toronto was founded 40 years ago, Hooper said.

Pride applies for grant weeks after inviting police back to parade

Pride Toronto applied for the grant and received partial funding for the police-inclusive project just weeks after making a controversial decision to invite uniformed officers back to the parade on Oct. 15, 2018.

The decision left the non-profit facing a maelstrom from its membership, and was made — at least in part — because the board of directors believed “a joint announcement about police participation in the 2019 Pride Parade would facilitate funding,” according to the resolution the board passed.

At the time, Pride Toronto was running a nearly $700,000 deficit, which it planned to partially address by obtaining new grants, according to its 2018 audited financial statement.

But by January, Pride Toronto’s membership voted to continue to keep uniformed officers out of the parade, sending Pride and Canadian Heritage scrambling to reinvent the project.

Pride says police inclusion not a condition of funding

In a statement, Pride Toronto told CBC News that police inclusion was not a funding condition in the contribution agreement with Canadian Heritage and no funding was withheld after its members voted to keep uniformed officers out.

After new plans for the project fell through, Pride Toronto told CBC News it received permission to use some of the grant money for expenses from past programming.

“We sought permission to change the grant deliverables into significant milestones and campaigns the organization did accomplish in 2018’s festival,” said Sherwin Modeste, the organization’s new executive director. “The granting partners were aware we were asking for these expenses to be covered.”

That programming included a safety campaign called Until We’re Safe, which launched in May 2018, prompted by the arrest of serial killer Bruce McArthur, and an educational campaign exploring that year’s Pride theme of 35 Years of AIDS Activism, which rolled out in June — months before the grant application was submitted in November.

Until we're safe-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Until We’re Safe​ was a Pride Toronto community engagement campaign aimed at increasing safety within the LGBTQ community. The website, pictured above, launched in May 2018. (

The grant did also fund new initiatives, such as a youth conference, operational adjustments in support of the Indigenous and two-spirit community, and programming to mark the 50th anniversary of New York City’s Stonewall riots in 2019.  

Canadian Heritage told CBC News in a statement that “during the working timeline of this project, Pride Toronto established an advisory group, which determined that the project deliverables needed to be adjusted to fit the relevant concerns of the community.”

Modeste was not executive director at the time. He was hired for the role in November 2020, nearly a year after the former head of Pride Toronto, Olivia Nuamah, left the organization.

In a February 2019 email to Hooper, Nuamah denied the non-profit had received any financial incentives related to the 50th anniversary of decriminalization despite receiving the first $140,000 cheque for the grant in December 2018.

When CBC News asked Nuamah about her response to Hooper, she replied via email: “If you have the report, you will see the activity we reported on.

Olivia Nuamah-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Olivia Nuamah was the executive director of Pride Toronto in November 2018 when the organization applied for the federal grant from Canadian Heritage. She left the non-profit in January 2020. (CBC)

When Hooper later found out through an access to information request that Pride Toronto was one of 10 organizations that received a total of $2 million from the federal government to commemorate the anniversary, the historian decided to dig deeper.

“It didn’t sit well with me,” said Hooper. 

He obtained more than 400 pages of access to information records specifically about the grant project from Canadian Heritage — another 300-plus pages were withheld, citing an exemption for confidences of the Queen’s Privy Council of Canada, which includes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet.

Following the no-police vote in January 2019, Canadian Heritage scheduled a call with Pride Toronto on Feb. 4 to “discuss the impact of changes and pressures within the organization on the project being funded by the Commemorate Canada Program.”

Within two months of that phone call, the focus of the project had changed to creating Indigenous resources and highlighting two-spirit narratives.

Pride tells Ottawa it has ‘fully executed contract’ for artwork

As part of this reworked project, Pride Toronto claimed to have contracted Kent Monkman to create “7 works depicting the 2 Spirit community.” The “brand new series of paintings” is advertised on a full page of the 2019 Pride Guide, which was published on May 1, 2019.

Seven days later in a project update sent to Canadian Heritage, Nuamah wrote the organization had “fully executed the contract with Kent Monkman.”

But a representative from the Cree artist’s studio told CBC News that Monkman had been discussing a project with Pride Toronto, but those talks never reached a contract and they had ended more than a week before Nuamah’s report to Canadian Heritage.

Pride2020-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Pride Toronto included this ad for a ‘brand new series of paintings’ from Kent Monkman in its 2019 Pride Guide despite the fact Monkman never signed a contract for the work. (Pride Toronto)

Nuamah also writes in the report — which was a contractual obligation to receive the next portion of grant funding — that the non-profit had reached an agreement with the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) to match funds received by the government for the Monkman project.

The AGO said in an emailed statement they have “no recollection or records of participating in this project.”

In an email, Nuamah told CBC News she was just about to finalize a plan with Monkman when the artist went to the AGO directly and proposed a partnership with the gallery to do the work.

Nuamah says the report to Canadian Heritage was made as she was trying to figure out how Pride could offer financial support to the AGO to continue the work, but later “it all ended and we all moved on.”

“This was reported to Canadian Heritage as it happened and we began to look in another direction and then I left Pride Toronto,” she said.

In its own statement to CBC News for this story, Pride Toronto said funding was not available at the time to provide Monkman with the necessary commission fees for the project.

After reviewing his access request records, Hooper says he asked Pride Toronto through a letter to the board, and at the annual general meeting in 2020, where the money went, but wasn’t provided any information.

Sherwin Modeste-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Sherwin Modeste took on the role of executive director of Pride Toronto in November 2020 (Submitted by Pride Toronto)

Pride Toronto told CBC News since Modeste became executive director he “has prioritized the introduction of many new policies and practices, including transparency in [Pride Toronto’s] partnerships and grant procurement.” 

Pride Toronto provided CBC News with a copy of the final report for the Canadian Heritage project.

The report confirms that despite the project’s title, “Commemorating 50 years of the Criminal Law Amendment Act,” none of the grant money was used to mark the anniversary.

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