Borderland Pride was denied a resolution in support of Pride by the council of the Township of Emo
An LGBTQ2 group has filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal against a northwestern Ontario municipality alleging that the town council’s refusal to adopt a resolution in support of Pride was discriminatory. The complaint was filed against the Township of Emo by Borderland Pride, the LGBTQ2 Pride organization for the Rainy River District, where Emo is located. Borderland Pride is joined in its complaint by the Northern Ontario Pride Network, which is an umbrella organization for Pride groups across Ontario’s north, as well as by Douglas Judson, a gay man who grew up in the community and is an organizer of Borderland Pride, and Katie Shoemaker, a lesbian mother with a same-sex spouse who lives in Emo. In addition to the municipality, the complaint is brought against Mayor Harold McQuaker, Councillor Harrold Boven, and Councillor Warren Toles. McQuaker, Boven, and Toles are the 3 members of council who refused to support the resolution at council meetings on May 12 and 26. The complaint alleges discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, family status, and religion, which are all grounds protected by Ontario’s Human Rights Code. Human rights cases in Ontario dating back to the mid-1990s have found that a municipal council’s failure to provide the service of a support resolution on the basis of a Code-protected ground constitutes discrimination. Several cases across Canada have reached this conclusion. Among other things, the complaint seeks an order from the Tribunal requiring an apology from the municipality and that the mayor and two councillors undertake training at their own expense on diversity, inclusion, and human rights, with a focus on LGBTQ2 issues. A financial award, if ordered, will be used to fund Pride and LGBTQ2 inclusion programming in the Emo area. The complainants are represented by Douglas Elliott of Cambridge LLP.
“Pride continues to be most needed in places where it is least visible. Too often we forget that LGBTQ2 people outside of larger centres – and especially youth – lack access to resources, positive role models, or sources of support and understanding related to sexual orientation and gender identity. The basic observance of Pride by leaders in small communities sends the message that even if their families may not accept them, their institutions are in their corner. It signals that there is hope and that there are allies.” - Peter Howie, Co-Chair, Borderland Pride
“This dispute arose because in this small town, there are LGBTQ2 people standing up for the cause of diversity and inclusion. How many other small places have queer and trans kids, but no one positioned or empowered to ask these questions? Visibly signalling our sense of inclusion is critical for the future of northern communities. This case is about sending a strong message that the same rules and rights are observed and respected in communities of all sizes.” - Douglas W. Judson, Co-Chair, Borderland Pride
“Pride is important in small communities because it helps to normalize families like mine and shows young people that different family types are welcomed in our community. When you grow up in a small, isolated place, it’s important to see that your leaders and institutions are there for you.” - Katie Shoemaker
“Pride festivals are not just for big cities anymore. They have become popular and vital events for our communities, large and small, across the north, including for two-spirit people like me.” - Rita Olink, Chair, Northern Ontario Pride Network
“In this day and age, it is unheard of for an Ontario municipality to defy the law and to refuse to recognize Pride in such a plainly discriminatory manner. All northern Ontario Pride organizations stand in solidarity with Borderland Pride and with our affected community members in the Emo area.” - Greg Lawrence, Executive Director, Northern Ontario Pride Network
“Justice for Children and Youth (JFCY) is a non-profit legal aid clinic that provides legal services to children, young people, and their supporters in Ontario. We receive calls from LGBTQ2S young people across the province facing discrimination, bullying, harassment, and rejection. It is well-supported by academic research that such experiences have a direct and tangible impact on the safety, health, and well-being of these young people, and that LGBTQ2S youth experience higher rates of homelessness, mental health issues, and suicidality. Local pride celebrations in rural and remote communities serve as an important demonstration of acceptance and inclusion for LGBTQ2S children and youth, making these young people feel safe and more confident in the knowledge that their human rights are affirmed, recognized and respected where they live. For these reasons, JFCY strongly supports the action taken by Borderland Pride to make a formal human rights complaint against the Township of Emo for its failure to recognize LGBTQ2S human rights.” - Anne Irwin, Chair, Justice for Children and Youth
Like many Pride organizations across Canada and around the world, Borderland Pride annually requests resolutions from local municipal governments in support of Pride and LGBTQ2 inclusion.
In 2018, the council of the Township of Emo adopted the resolution as presented.
In 2019, a new council was in office. Before adopting the resolution, they deleted all of the supportive language related to LGBTQ2 people, their equality, or inclusion – passing a one-sentence resolution with no reference to LGBTQ2 people.
In 2020, the two supportive members of Emo’s council refused to compromise on the resolution. At the May 12 meeting of council, they moved and seconded the resolution, but it was defeated by the mayor and the other two councillors, in a 3-2 recorded vote.
In the days which followed, Borderland Pride presented the council with a petition of over 1,500 signatures (it later grew to over 1,800 signatures), asking it to reverse its decision. In their covering letter, Borderland Pride pointed out the discriminatory nature of the council’s decision when compared to all of the previous resolutions that it had adopted in support of local events and causes. The 3 council members who defeated the resolution refused to change their votes.
The mayor has made several comments during these meetings and to the media about the fact that there is no celebration for “straight Pride”, citing “majority rules” as the basis for the decision, and identifying the “good Christian” character of the community as the basis for rejecting the Pride resolution.
On Saturday, June 27, Borderland Pride will hold a peaceful protest event in Emo for area residents to show their support of Pride and LGBTQ2 inclusion while maintaining social distancing. Details are available at www.borderlandpride.org/ambush.
Related Materials (follow links):
2018 and 2019 resolutions adopted by council of the Township of Emo
April 29 letter of request to the Township of Emo from Borderland Pride
Audio recording of May 12 meeting of council
May 21 letter to the Township of Emo from Borderland Pride, enclosing a petition
Audio recording of May 26 meeting of council
Application Filed with the Tribunal
Borderland Pride Email: firstname.lastname@example.org