(Victoria Pride Parade 2017 - Victoria Pride Society/Facebook)

For the first time ever, non-uniformed police officers from departments across Greater Victoria will be participating in the annual Victoria Pride Parade.

The application for officers to participate in the parade is made by the Greater Victoria Police Diversity Advisory Committee (GVPDAC).

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The GVPDAC was created in 2001 to bring together representatives from Greater Victoria’s diverse communities and the region’s police agencies with the goals of fostering trust, improving communication, and building mutual understanding.

In 2017, the Committee entered all of the police departments in Greater Victoria along with their vehicles to participate in the parade.

This meant that there were six police cars present in the 2017 Pride parade, a contingency that became far too large of a presence.

According to Pride Parade co-ordinator and Co-Vice President of the Victoria Pride Society, Britt Kohn, the VPS overhauled their system the following year, making sure that volunteers vet every parade entrant to make sure they meet the criteria of being an LGBTQ2S+ ally or partner.

Further challenges

According to Kohn, the GVPDAC apologized for bringing such a large police presence in 2017, and then in 2018 offered to wear t-shirts and show up without their uniforms in recognition of the impact that uniformed police can have on different people.

In 2018, the Victoria Pride Society made the decision to allow queer police officers to show up in uniform – one of those who did was an RCMP officer who was the first gay male member of his department, according to Kohn – while all other participating officers wore t-shirts.

However, according to VicPD spokesperson Bowen Osoko, asking only queer officers to don their uniforms for the parade proved “problematic”.

This year, on Sunday July 7th, police officers will be marching in the the Victoria Pride Parade without their uniforms after the GVPDAC heard “concerns from members of marginalized communities about [their] participation in this event.”

The no-uniform rule this year was mandated by the Victoria Pride Society, as confirmed by Kohn.

Consultation and inclusion

“VPS did vote based on consultation, and we recognize and hear that there’s work to do. We will publicly say that we asked for no uniforms, but they [GVPDAC] came to us with idea first that last year,” Kohn told Victoria Buzz.

“We were doing the best we could with the resources we literally do not have, as we all volunteer outside of our work hours.”

When asked about public criticism for not allowing uniformed police to march in the parade, Kohn brought up the fact that uniformed officers must carry weapons, which the Pride Society does not allow at this event.

“We’re asking for no weapons to be on a person. We needed to find a way to be inclusive of everyone by finding officers who are willing to proudly show that [they] recognize that the communities that [they] interact with may not be ready for [them] to show up with [their] uniform on and with weapons out,” said Kohn.

There will, however, be uniformed Victoria Police officers guarding the perimeter of the event, as they do with all major parades and festivals.

While uniformed police ensuring security at the event will not be participating in the parade itself, all VicPD officers are sporting Pride “patches” in support of Pride Week, as announced by Chief Del Manak on Twitter.

“I think that’s a fantastic show of awareness so that the general public are recognizing that it’s an important week,” Kohn stated upon finding out about the Pride patches. “It’s a great step of showing community support for them to do that.”

For their part, the Greater Victoria Police Diversity Advisory Committee has come out with a statement supporting the decision for police officers to participate in the Pride Parade without their uniforms.

“As guests at the VPS event, we’re happy to participate in the manner that the organizers and community have told us they need us to. This year, we’re glad to not walk in uniform,” they said in a statement.

“It is our hope that doing so helps us all take another step towards fostering trust, improving communication, and building mutual understanding between our officers and staff and LGBTQ2S+ members of the Greater Victoria community we serve.”

At this time, the Victoria Pride Society is seeking volunteers to help out at the Pride Parade and Festival.

Volunteers would aid in making the magic happen by performing a variety of tasks, like bar tending, decorating, setting up, tearing down, and more.

Sign up on their website to volunteer!

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