People march in Toronto's Pride Parade in 2012.
Credits: MICHAEL PEAK/REUTERS
ST. THOMAS, ON - The organizer of the Port Stanley Pride Festival in southern Ontario says municipal officials are trying to bury the festival in "bureaucratic burden and financial hardship."
Festival chairwoman Michelle Boyce says Central Elgin officials sprung extravagant last-minute conditions on the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and transgender pride festival that would cost organizers about $12,000. A tall order considering the festival is scheduled for this weekend.
She said the festival's special events permit was reviewed line-by-line in April and she thought everything was approved.
"(Central Elgin) has been problematic since the beginning. They kept on saying why are you bringing this here? Why do we need this here? Can't you take this somewhere else?" Boyce said.
Central Elgin solicitor Stephen Gibson, however, says the municipality did its due diligence and the festival poses safety concerns. Any perceived discrimination, he adds, is false.
"Certainly, it's the municipality's position that it is processing this application on an objective, responsible basis," he told QMI Agency.
"These are not conditions that, as the organizer would have you believe, were established to somehow cancel the event. These are reasonable conditions, responsible conditions."
Boyce received a letter last Friday calling on the festival to meet substantial conditions or call it off. The main changes are for paid, off-duty provincial police officers to act as security, a 275-metre-long fence along the festival's harbourfront and shrinking the drinking area.
Regardless of whether the event meets those conditions - unlikely according to Boyce because the conditions would cost more than one-third of the festival's total budget - the chairwoman says she's taking legal action against the municipality because of the expenses sponsors have already paid.
"We're done. I mean, we've paid deposits on our entertainment; we've put deposits on all the stuff that we need for the festival; everything's ordered. Everything's done; we're a week away."
Boyce maintains the group began planning last September and completed its event application in April, but Gibson says that's not the case.
The municipality processed the incomplete application in April which he says was missing a final and detailed site plan.
Organizers completed the site plan in late June and that's when the application was considered complete, he said.
Even now, Gibson said, the municipality has yet to receive crucial documents including insurance certificates and vendor permit applications.
As for the police, barricade and drinking area conditions, Gibson says they're all for the good of visitors. He said Boyce's original plan was to have Fanshawe College students act as a volunteer security force. The fencing would only be around the western perimeter, nearest to the harbour, to separate visitors from the water.
But Boyce isn't convinced and says experience the past two years planning London, Ont.'s pride festivals has taught her how to run similar festivals.
"This is an exact duplicate of the setup of Pride London...It's tried. It's true. It's worked," she said.
Boyce estimates around 10,000 people will come to town for Pride festivities.
Boyce says those visitors won't be completely disappointed because Central Elgin's conditions won't stop the festivities altogether.
Sponsors still have musical acts planned at their respective locations plus there's an art show scheduled under a different permit for that weekend.
"It's looking like the municipality's going to cancel it but Port is still having Pride. It just looks different now."
"Queer people tend to not to take this crap lying down so they'll show up in numbers just to send a message to Central Elgin that you can't stop queer people from coming to town."