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Pride Toronto considering cuts to festival amid soaring policing, insurance costs: organizers

Posted in Featured, World

Published on May 25, 2023 with No Comments

Police say costs up due to event size, collective bargaining; insurer did not comment.
The head of Pride Toronto says the group may need to cut programming at this year’s festival as it wrestles with major cost increases for policing and insurance just weeks ahead of the event.

Pride Executive Director Sherwin Modeste said the organization has seen a 300 per cent increase in its insurance premiums and 150 per cent jump to the cost of paid duty police officers. He says the event’s footprint has grown, but cites safety concerns surrounding large public festivals and the 2SLGBTQI+ community as contributing factors to the hike.

“Hate towards the 2SLGBTQl+ community, unfortunately, has always been there,” Modeste said. “Oftentimes, folks will say, you know, it’s happening in the U.S., it’s not going to come to Canada. Unfortunately, it is here.”

Modeste said costs for insurance ran the group $60,000 for 2022 but their rates this year are up to $278,000. Toronto Police gave a similar estimate of $62,000 for paid duty officers at last year’s festival. This year, the cost is up to $168,000.

TPS says in an invoice it needs 90 officers -— up from 78 the year before — for a total number of 1,400 working hours, up from 500 the year before.
“We just find those rates are just ridiculous,” Modeste said of both increases. “We’re currently having conversations with all three levels of government to help to absorb some of those costs, because as an organization we did not budget for an over 300% increase in insurance, and over 150% increase in paid duty officers.”
Toronto Police spokesperson Stephanie Sayer said the service is recommending the increase because of the “substantial increase in the event footprint, and not due to elevated security risks.”

With an extended parade route, longer festival hours and a new 1,000 person beer garden at the event, she said the service felt the increase was needed. Contributing to the increased costs is an over 14 per cent jump in the hourly rate of pay for officers perform paid duty under their collective bargaining agreement, she added.

“As it stands, Toronto Police have not received information about increased security threats related to the Pride Festival,” Sayer said in a statement. “Ultimately, the festival is larger this year, and TPS is recommending the increase to ensure public safety and the safe movement of pedestrians and traffic.”

Pride Toronto’s insurer, BFL Canada, did not respond to a request for comment.

Modeste said that if talks with other levels of government don’t result in additional funding, the festival will have to cut back. That means that hundreds of local artists who are hired for the event will likely bear the brunt of the cost-cutting, he said.

“We have a festival that is less than six weeks away,” Modeste said. “We need concrete answers. We need to know that our governments at all levels take the lives of the queer community seriously.”
Toronto Metropolitan University professor of hospitality and tourism management Wayne Smith said the cost increases Pride Toronto has seen are happening across North America. Insurance companies have been increasing rates for public festivals and events since the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas where 60 people died and nearly 500 were wounded.

“This is not just Pride,” he said. “There are a lot of community events that are going to be facing this. There’s a few bad actors who are spoiling the party for everybody.”
But Smith said Pride events in particular are struggling because of increased costs related to threats, especially in the United States where in some instances they can’t even get insurance to hold events.

“It’s really, really sad that these events are getting punished because some people are hateful,” he said.

Modeste said Pride Toronto isn’t alone in feeling this financial crunch. Pride festivals and events across Canada are also facing similar cost increases because of security threats, he said.

“It’s a constant song that has been sung that folks just are not certain that they will be able to have events,” he said.
“We have heard about the need for increased security identified by Pride event organizations and the related costs,” Audrey Champoux said in a statement.

“Our government has been engaged with Fierté Canada Pride (Pride Toronto included) and will continue working closely with all partners to ensure that anyone celebrating Pride-related events and festivals can do so safely and inclusively.”

The City of Toronto said in a statement Wednesday that it has provided Pride with funding this year as well as “in-kind resources” based on need. The city said there is no additional funding available to provide to the festival.

“The City will continue to work with event producers (like Pride) to recommend planning efficiencies and to help reduce the cost of services where possible,” the city statement said.

A spokesperson for Ontario’s Minister of Tourism said the government contributes $550,000 a year to Pride Toronto and it’s one of the biggest festivals in the province.

“We’ll continue to support LGBTQ+ communities in Ontario, including in assistance for events like Pride Toronto so that they thrive in Ontario’s tourism and culture sectors,” Alan Sakach said in a statement.


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