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Bank targeted by pro-Palestinian protesters at parade helps fund Pride society

The protesters blocked the Victoria parade at Humboldt Street.

One of the demands of pro-Palestinian ­protesters who briefly disrupted Sunday’s Victoria Pride Parade was for the Pride society to break ties with entities associated with Israel.

But the society says while it supports many of the protesters’ goals, Toronto-Dominion Bank, the main bank targeted by activists, is one of its biggest donors.

TD Bank is listed on the society’s website as one of its “most impactful partners,” along with the provincial and federal governments, the City of Victoria and Modo, the car-share company.

“It’s been very difficult to find the amount of funds that we need without getting money from TD,” said Victoria Pride Society president Ace Mann, adding the society is working on hiring a grant writer to find alternative funding sources.

A group of about 70 pro-Palestinian protesters cut in front of TD’s float, forcing the parade, attended by tens of thousands, to come to a standstill.

The mostly masked protesters disrupted the parade at Humboldt Street for about 20 minutes shortly before noon, forming a human roadblock with banners and chanting slogans.

They called for a Gaza ceasefire and for the Victoria Pride Society to reject contributions from banks and other corporations that they say are “profiting from the genocide in Gaza.”

A protester who did not give their name told the Times Colonist the group had specifically chosen to stop the TD Bank float because of the bank’s association with Israel-based Elbit Systems and weapons manufacturer General Dynamics, two companies that protesters accuse of being complicit in the war in Gaza.

“We won’t allow them to use our queer identity to launder their reputation,” the protester said.

Mick Ramos, manager of corporate and public affairs for Western Canada for TD Bank Group, said the company has a long-standing commitment to the LGBTQ community and to creating a more inclusive society.

“As a longtime supporter of Pride, TD respects its history as a liberation movement that’s grown in championing intersectional issues. We understand our responsibilities as a corporate citizen and have processes in place to ensure we’re assessing environmental, social and economic considerations when making business decisions.”

Pride Toronto’s June 30 march was also disrupted by pro-Palestinian demonstrators, but unlike the executive director of that group, Mann refrained from criticizing the interruption.

“We completely appreciate the right and necessity for queer people to protest for what they believe in,” Mann said. “When our existence is made political by the world, it makes sense that we are political people.”

Mann said the blockade was unexpected.

The society had reached out to the group organizing weekly pro-Palestinian rallies in downtown Victoria more than a week ago asking if any demonstrations were planned during the march, Mann said Sunday. “They had said no. So this demonstration today was a surprise.”

A volunteer with Capital Bike handed out lollipops to some in the blockade, while a man on a bike with a Canadian Union of Postal Workers flag traded fist bumps with protesters holding banners.

Protesters called for Pride Parade attendees to join them in the demonstration, with about 100 or so heeding the call.

A small group of people with the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association and the BCGEU left the parade to join the demonstrators.

Tara Ehrcke of the teachers’ association said she decided to join the protest because she supports “Palestinian freedom.”

“There’s a genocide going on. As we’re marching, bombs are dropping. It’s absolutely shameful, what’s happening there,” she said. “Pride should be a day for all marginalized people and all people experiencing oppression.”

But several parade watchers, unhappy with the pause, got into screaming matches with the protesters about the disruption. Others heckled from the sidelines.

“Pride has always been political,” a masked protester yelled back.

After about 15 minutes, the 127-entry parade was rerouted farther along Douglas Street and onto Belleville Street, although protesters stayed on Humboldt Street.

One man who did not appear to be affiliated with the protesters was led away from the demonstration by police after an altercation.

Around 12:50 p.m., a protester with a megaphone announced that they had received written “concessions” from the Victoria Pride Society and demonstrators began to disperse.

In a copy of communications between the protest group and Mann, obtained by the Times Colonist, Mann said the society will work toward meeting the group’s demands “through the channels available to us,” adding they will be seeking legal advice following the end of Pride Week.

Some of the demonstrators were later seen around McDonald Park enjoying Pride festival activities without masks.

The protesters who spoke to the Times Colonist on Sunday said their group was unaffiliated with the weekly rallies or pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Victoria, though a number of individuals participating in the blockade had previously been seen in those other protest actions.

Mann said the Pride Society agrees with many of the protesters’ demands. “A permanent, lasting ceasefire in Gaza is very important.”

Other protester demands include the removal of police from the Pride Parade and for the society to take more action to prevent homeless people from being displaced for Pride Week events.

The Victoria Pride Society has said it is against the street sweeps that appear to coincide with Pride events in Victoria. For example, campers at Vic West Park were removed from the area before last week’s Memorial Drag Ball, despite explicit calls against that from the society, Mann said.

“It seemed that they were displacing the unhoused community to make way for our event, which is very frustrating because we contacted the police weeks before saying that we do not want that to happen.”

Members of the society had gone to the park in the days before the event with gift cards and water to tell campers they didn’t need to move, Mann said.

Victoria police spokesperson Cheryl Major said VicPD did not clear the encampment at Vic West Park, noting enforcement of overnight sheltering rules is the responsibility of city bylaw officers, who sometimes ask police to help protect them. “But I can tell you that we didn’t conduct any activity like that with Bylaw ahead of that event,” Major said in an email.

Mann, meanwhile, said changes at the Pride Society will take time and continued effort. “It’s important to recognize that Pride is a big ship. So it’ll take a while to steer.”

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