With our own civic and municipal elections in British Columbia weeks away, it may seem odd to take time to consider the impending civic vote in Toronto. Of course, the entire world has devoted some of its attention to Toronto politics this year, the guffaws and ridicule turning to sympathy now that incumbent Mayor Rob Ford has been diagnosed with a serious and rare cancer. This latest twist in the saga provides a needed insight into society’s divergent responses to some health crises – like a large malignant growth – versus mental health crises, of which the mayor has probably demonstrated multiple symptoms, yet which gathered little to no sympathy, only punchlines and ridicule.
All that is for another time. In the first candidates’ forum post-Rob Ford (his brother, councilor Doug Ford, has taken his place on the ballot), front-running candidate John Tory told the audience at a largely Jewish forum that he would vote against funding for the city’s massive Pride Parade if the anti-Israel group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QAIA) were allowed to participate.
Unlike Mayor Ford, both the candidates Tory and Olivia Chow have marched in the parade and express support for it. But Tory reportedly elicited huge applause by promising to withhold the approximately $160,000 the city grants to the parade if the anti-Israel group were allowed to participate.
Understandably organizers of the parade have balked at political intervention that would limit participation to certain condoned groups. It was not long ago that, rather than marching in the parade with their supporters, public officials were condemning the parade as an inappropriate, hedonistic bacchanal on the streets of the city.
As Jews and as Zionists, our gut is with those cheering in the audience. QAIA is a fringe of extremists who undermine gay rights in the Middle East by delegitimizing its only oasis of legal and social freedoms. And the use of the word apartheid to describe Israel is plain wrong.
There is a more fundamental value at play here, however. It is basic free expression. As we saw recently, the Vancouver Queer Film Festival experienced controversy over a Jewish community ad that included the Israeli flag. In this case, it is the gay community that is soiled by its association with repression of open discourse – while VQFF accepted the ad in question, they treated its revenue differently, donating it to another organization. The festival is currently reviewing its ad policy. Our advice to them: we shouldn’t give in to those who seek to suppress free expression; all sides should be heard.
And it’s the same for Toronto Pride. There could hardly be, in a democracy, a better opportunity outside of the voting booth to register one’s opinion than a parade. Rather than applaud censorship, opponents of QAIA should attend the 2015 parade, enjoy the show, wait for the QAIA contingent, peaceably let their opinions be known with a creative sign or a catchy cheer.
Don’t make QAIA martyrs to free expression by preventing them from participating. Show them that the public rejects their worldview.