On June 29, two days before the Pride Toronto Parade, the Board of Arbitration ruled that the activities of QuAIA (Queers Against Israeli Apartheid) didn’t contravene the City of Toronto’s Anti-Discrimination Policy.

In its ruling, the Board also found that QuAIA’s activities are not contrary to the core missions or policies of Pride Toronto.

“The Panel concludes that the activities of QUAIA described in the request for dispute resolution at the hearing, are not likely to present images or messages that promote, condone or may condone violence, hatred, degradation or negative stereotypes of a person or group contrary to the City of Toronto’s Anti-Discrimination Policy,” wrote the Board in its July 9 report.

Following years of complaints by groups and individuals against QuAIA’s participation in the Pride Toronto Parade, Pride Toronto established a Dispute Resolution Process (DRP) to consider any complaint about the participation or exclusion of a group in the Pride parade or march.

Pride Toronto said that it appointed “a roster of independent, professional, impartial Dispute Resolution Officers who are members in good standing with the Law Society of Upper Canada or have relevant professional experience and training in human rights issues, mediation or adjudication.”

Complainants can make a request for corrective action (handled separately by the Executive Director of Pride Ontario), mediation or arbitration. A complainant may request to start at step one and proceed through the steps, or go directly to arbitration.

In this case, B’nai Brith submitted a request for arbitration, which seeks “an independent review of the approval or exclusion of participants in the parade or march, or an alleged violation of the rules and policies governing participation in the parade or march.”

B’nai Brith claimed that QuAIA’s participation violated Pride Toronto’s policies, the City of Toronto’s Anti-Discrimination Policy and the Ontario Human Rights Code.

The City of Toronto requires that all organizations and individuals adopt the “Declaration of Non-Discrimination” as a condition of receiving funding or other support from the City. The Form must be formally adopted by the Board of Directors and submitted with the application.

Section 6 of the 2012 Pride Parade Terms and Conditions states that:

a) The Applicant will not present any messages – verbal, written, in imagery or otherwise – that promotes or condones violence or the incitement of hatred as defined in the Criminal Code of Canada. 

b) The Applicant will respect the right of all members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning, 2 spirited and allied communities to participate in Pride Week 2012. 

c) The Applicant agrees that all messages delivered during the participation in the Parade and March will remain non-violent and in accordance with the guidelines above, the City of Toronto’s Anti- Discrimination Policy and Pride Toronto’s Freedom of Expression policy. 

d) The Applicant will tailor its messaging to be in accordance with: 

i)  the theme of the 2012 festival, or 

ii)  Pride’s Global Human Rights for Queers (international human 
 rights) program, or 

iii) messages in solidarity with the LGBTTIQQ2SA communities. 

QuAIA said its name or messaging wasn’t anti-Semitic or an expression of hatred, “but rather is a statement of opposition to the policies of the Government of Israel towards the Palestinians.”

B’nai Brith argued that anti-Semitism usually follows anti-Israel activity.

Anita Bromberg, National Director Legal Affairs for League for Human Rights B’nai Brith Canada, on behalf of the Complainant, said Pride Toronto should celebrate gay culture and not be used as “a route for anti-Israel propaganda” or promote “ludicrous slander.”

At the June 27 hearing, she equated the words “Israeli Apartheid” with “slander and misinformation.”

But Bromberg didn’t call QuAIA’s name or its messaging “hate speech”  or “incitement to hatred, or to violence” as described in the Criminal Code of Canada.

However, said the Board, “Ms. Bromberg suggested that no organization should be permitted to participate in the Pride Parade if it is espousing a political message arguably unconnected with LGBT issues, even if pro-Israel.”

Bromberg said that the QuAIA’s messaging wasn’t consistent with the theme of the 2012 festival which was to “Celebrate and Demonstrate.”

She also said the Board should be “guided” by Toronto City Council and the Ontario Legislature, who both found QuAIA’s name and messaging to be “offensive.”

Charles Campbell, counsel for QuAIA, submitted a number of documents by prominent Israelis and non-Israelis, alleging that Israel is practicing apartheid-style policies towards the Palestinians.

And therefore, Campbell said, on behalf of the Respondent, “There is nothing legally improper in QuAIA using the term “apartheid” in either its name, or it’s messaging.”

In its finding, the Board said that since the Complainant acknowledged that QuAIA’s name and messaging didn’t breach the Criminal Code of Canada, it also didn’t violate Section 6 a) of the 2012 Pride Parade Terms and Conditions.

As to the City’s Anti-Discrimination Policy, the Board said that City staff had previously concluded that QuAIA didn’t violate their  policy.

The fact, said the Board, that Toronto City Council and the Ontario Legislature condemned the term “Israeli Apartheid” was irrelevant in this context, since there was no legal basis for their decisions.

Interestingly, the Board pointed out that B’nai Brith has never filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal against QuAIA.

“Although not conclusive, such lack of action certainly leaves a doubt as to whether B’nai Brith truly believes it stands on solid legal ground,” wrote the Board.

The Complainant also failed to provide evidence of any anti-Semitic acts, said the Board, that were carried out against the Jewish community as a direct result of anything said or done by QuAIA.

And finally, the Board determined that QuAIA’s messaging was in accordance with Toronto Pride’s Freedom of Expression Policy.

As a result, the Board dismissed the Complaint of B’nai Brith.

The decision by the Board to dismiss the Complaint of B’nai Brith, thereby paving the way for QuAIA to march in the 2012 Toronto Pride Parade, is significant for a number of reasons.

It means that no group can be excluded from marching in the parade simply because one or more parties doesn’t like (i.e. finds it “offensive”) its message.

That opens the door for other groups to march in future parades provided their messages don’t violate the Criminal Code of Canada, the City’s Anti-Discrimination Policy or any Pride Parade Terms and Conditions.

It’s a victory for freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression in this country.

And it’s dealt a significant blow to the tired, worn argument that being openly critical of the Israeli government’s policies or actions can be equated with anti-Semitism. 

John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.