Mercedes Allen

Toronto City Councilor Records March, Calls for Defunding

Filed By Mercedes Allen | July 07, 2011 8:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Canada, pride 2011, QuAIA, Toronto Pride

Borrowing a page from "Porno" Peter LaBarbera, Toronto city councilor Giorgio "Creepy" Mammoliti made it a point to film Saturday's Dyke March during Toronto Pride Week festivities, in hopes of catching any sign of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) or anyone sporting similar messaging to them. QuAIA is a group that opposes what it calls "Israeli Apartheid" - the ongoing treatment of Palestinians in occupied territories in the Middle East, and specifically LGBT Palestinians.

Their overall message is not anti-semitic, although much has been made about a shirt that was worn by one participant in 2009 that showed a (crossed out) swastika. Earlier this year, Toronto City Council made funding of the Toronto Pride dependent on whether or not QuAIA was allowed to participate, after anti-semitism was used as an excuse to defund the event.

The Green Mammoliti with the Two-Pronged Camera

QuAIA had withdrawn its participation in the parade in order to head off a defunding of Toronto Pride, although they did drop a banner during event festivities. But during the following day's Dyke March (which a National Post commentator refers to as "a relatively unstructured annual parade along Bloor and Yonge Streets in which any woman or trans person can participate"), a new group called "Dykes and Trans People for Palestine" was rumoured to be marching. Mammoliti made sure to be there to film it all - and not very discretely, either (causing #peepingmammoliti to trend on Twitter). He managed to find a reference to "Israeli Apartheid" and other expressions of support for LGBT Palestinians, and is now calling to end all funding to the event. (The Toronto Star is showing some of Mammoliti's footage.)

In the short-term, Councillor Doug Ford suggested the city may withhold hundreds of thousands of dollars in Pride funding already promised to organizers.

In the long-term, the footage, which shows dyke parade participants carrying anti-Israeli apartheid signage, could have drastic implications for every entity that receives city grants, from Caribana to the Toronto International Film Festival.

Rabble.ca features an open letter to the City Council from Elle Flanders, a member of both Toronto's Jewish community and gay community (and a driving force behind QuAIA), who reminds them that:

Irwin Cotler (Canadian MP, co-founder of the Canadian Parliamentary Committee to Combat Antisemitism and former justice minister) has finally put this argument to rest when he states unequivocally that criticism of Israel as an apartheid state is within the bounds of legitimate discourse.

So essentially, QuAIA's protests are the same kind of freedom of speech that far right commentators in Canada are (inconsistently) claiming to care about.

Flanders goes on to point out that many of the people participating in protests of apartheid in Palestine are in fact Jewish people of conscience, and calls out Mammoliti's and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's homophobic agendas.

Ford, meanwhile, caused a bit of a kerfuffle by refusing to take part in Toronto Pride events. Which is his prerogative, I suppose, but it certainly doesn't do much for his image, compared to mayors in provinces that are reputedly "redneck" who are participating in their cities as grand marshals.

Georgio Mammoliti has a largely anti-gay history, and pitched Toronto's "brothel island" idea as a response to the court's overturning of Ontario's anti-prostitution laws:

A defined red-light district, Mammoliti argues, would help the cash-strapped city regulate and tax brothels.

"In an economic sense for the City of Toronto, we could probably do something that will create tourism as well," he told CBC News.

If he first earned the moniker "Creepy" when proposing that the city get into the pimping business, then stalking and filming lesbians is probably not going to help him much. Mammoliti spoke to LifeSiteNews (which gives an indication of what he considers journalism) and justified his crusade by maintaining his claims of discrimination, and adding in a bit about fiscal responsibility:

"I will attempt to put a stop to all funding to parades and marches until there's a new policy in place at City Hall that doesn't offend taxpayers in this city," he said. "We shouldn't be funding any political messaging at all. I think that we have to re-evaluate and reconsider everything we do with taxpayer's dollars."

Toronto Pride receives $130,000 from the city, and the 2009 event brought in an estimated $136 million into the city's economy. Toronto has a license to hold the 2014 World Pride festival, which may also be at stake.


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Scott Rose | July 7, 2011 8:57 AM

If one is going to protest Israel in the context of a gay pride parade, what is one's goal as regards the rights of gay people in the Middle East? It would be one thing if the aim were to raise awareness that would, hopefully lead to enhanced LGBT rights throughout the Middle East. But that does not appear to be among these groups' aims. Cotler, it should be noted, did not endorse the fraudulent, propagandistic notion that Israel is "apartheid." He said that free speech allows people to say that if they wish. Notoriously, apartheid in South Africa began with a racist and discriminatory rationale which documentably was not the rationale for Israel's construction of the security wall. Stopping suicide bombers from entering Israel from the West Bank, the security wall protects all Israelis, of course including Arab Israelis. In South Africa under apartheid, there were separate white and black hospitals and it was illegal for persons of one color to be treated in a hospital for persons of another color. In Israel today not only are persons of all races treated in all hospitals, Jewish and Arab doctors and surgeons work in the same hospitals. In South Africa under apartheid, there were no black persons on the Supreme Court as there is an Arab member of Israel's Supreme Court today. Demonizing Israel as "apartheid" is especially pernicious when one considers the status of Middle Eastern Jews in particular but for that matter of all Jews in what today is Jordan. The territory of Jordan was the lion's share of the British Mandate for Palestine. Jordan's Jews were expelled, and all of their property confiscated. In Jordan today, no Jew (not no Israeli, no Jew) may be a citizen or buy property. How is that for "apartheid"? Additionally, an Arab may buy private property in Israel, but, in both Gaza and the West Bank the penalty for selling property to a Jew is death. Again; how is that for apartheid? There is something very suspicious about persons outside of the region who look constantly and harshly at every last thing Israeli Jews are doing while giving everybody else in the region a pass. From these people wishing to or actually engaging in Israel-bashing in the context of a gay pride parade, where are the demands that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority respect the rights of gay people in the populations they control? And, where is the understanding that the existential threat to Israel posed by Hamas is not some abstract academic matter? There was an announced intention to destroy the World Trade Center, which obviously was not taken seriously enough and there is an announced intention to destroy Israel. The head of Hamas in Israel recently praised Osama Bin-Laden as a "Holy warrior." Raise your hand if you are too stupid to understand what that means.

I'm not affiliated with QuAIA, and am not going to argue their position here -- only their right to argue it (which is exactly the point that Cotler made, BTW). But given the prevalence of sock puppetry that seems to happen on this issue, I encourage folks to fact-check, rather than take anything as total fact.

Om Kalthoum | July 7, 2011 9:52 AM

I don't pretend to know the situation in another country, but the concept that the government should not be funding any particular political viewpoint or activity under the guise of a cultural event seems worthy of discussion.

QuAIA's participation is more or less parenthetical to Pride (as is any other group that happens to march in any of the parades, especially the less-structured parades like the Dyke March). So funding for the event goes to the event itself, and not any QuAIA political statement. Given that Toronto Pride easily qualifies for cultural event funding, what Ford and Mammoliti are attempting to do is deflect the discussion in exactly the way you're seeing, to make it seem political.

Hiding in the bushes is just creepy.

Frankly this issue about this group is nothing more than a tempest in a hot tub. First, the groups name was given the "sniff" test by the city's management office and was found that it did not contravene either city policy or Canadian law in April of this year. The other thing that this issue hides were all of the other wonderful groups covering most faiths and geographical regions (yes, there was a Muslim group and no, the Catholics did not)that did march on July 3,2011 in the main parade. This year there was approximately 13,000 marchers in the 2 and 1/2 hour parade.

One this that should be made clear is that the mayor and his councilor brother along with councilor Mammoliti are just three voices on a council of 45. Several of the current councilors on city council did march along with two former mayors, numerous members of federal and provincial Parliament.

Then again the million plus who attended the Sunday event are what drives the event. It is the first really big party of Toronto's summer festivals and they bring to the local economy an estimated 100 million plus CDN to the city.

Whether it was for moral, religious of philosophical reasons, the Ford's had to trot out there mother to give their reason for not attending any event during the ten day event any backing to their narrow world view.

The net effect of their actions was to tell any business in the downtown core that might be positively enhanced by the event that they really did not mater. The ironic note to that is the Ford family has their own small business. If the Ford's are so "family oriented" then why did they bother running for civic office in the first place.

On the whole pride will survive this divide and conquer approach of the right wing members of city council besides all the members of council have a much bigger issue to deal with, that of next year's budget shortfall.

Points taken, and thank you for adding them. It's valuable context for this issue.

Marc Paige | July 8, 2011 12:32 PM

I think the LGBT people protesting Israel's occupation of the West Bank (basically what this seems to be about) would seem more legitimate and less anti-Semitic if they also added a message of outrage over the treatment of LGBT people by Palestinian governmental authorities. These groups claim to be focused on Israel, Palestine, and LGBT people, and yet, they completely ignore the horrendous situation of anyone who refuses to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity in the Arab governed areas of this region. I, too, deplore the occupation, but those Toronto LGBT people focusing solely on demonizing Israel reveals a seriously biased agenda.

But is Palestine saying "look at what a progressive, first world country we are"?

Holding Israel to a higher standard than other Middle Eastern countries might have more to do with how it markets itself than the biases of those criticizing it.