National Newswatch

Vancouver police say they will take part in the city's annual Pride parade, despite a call from the activist group Black Lives Matter for the force to stay away.

Ahead of Sunday's march, Vancouver Police spokesman Sgt. Randy Fincham indicated the force had not been dissuaded from participating by an open letter asking for them to voluntarily withdraw.

"We will have a visible police presence both walking in the parade, and securing the parade route," he said in an email.

As the city launched Pride Week on Monday, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and the Vancouver Pride Society acknowledged the controversy.

"I just want to speak to an important development, certainly that we've seen across Canada and down south," said Robertson, telling the crowd he has recently met with local members of Black Lives Matter.

"Everybody's talking, which is wonderful. We all share common goals of working together toward inclusivity and safety and providing space for marginalized and racialized queer communities here in Vancouver. And solidarity between the communities is truly what we need."

The Vancouver Police Department's LGBTQ liaison officer stood near Robertson on the stage holding a rainbow flag during the opening ceremony.

The question of police involvement was raised by Black Lives Matter members in Vancouver who published an online letter to the Vancouver Pride Society and police department earlier this month.

It came after Toronto's Black Lives Matter temporarily stopped the country's largest Pride parade in early July. They issued a series of demands, including more funding and better representation for minority communities during Pride events, before allowing the parade to resume.

The Vancouver group has proposed that a public service float including police officers, firefighters and paramedics replace a police-only entry. Its letter said it was acting in solidarity with other Black Lives Matters chapters to express that some communities feel unsafe marching alongside the policing institution.

The Black Lives Matter movement dates back to anger generated by the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012 by a neighbourhood watch volunteer who was later acquitted of second-degree murder and of manslaughter.

The movement picked up momentum amid subsequent police-related deaths of black men in the United States.

The group said on Monday its members are now in talks with the Vancouver Police Department and Pride organizers.

"We have asked them to withdraw or at least not use their armoured rescue vehicle because it makes us feel unsafe given the historic and ongoing relationship between the police and marginalized communities," said the group over Facebook messenger.

"Pride is meant to be a protest against institutions of authority and a celebration of minority groups, so to have them included does not make sense."

The group elaborated on a Facebook post that Vancouver police have reached out to its members to discuss their perspectives. The post said the parties have tentatively begun a dialogue around "anti-oppression and anti-racism initiatives" on the police force.

"Although we may not fully agree about what should happen at this year's Pride parade, they at least took the time to initiate a dialogue and listened to us express our concerns," reads the posted dated July 22.

The Vancouver Police Department has participated in the parade for about two decades, Robertson said.

Pride organizers said they were hoping to have their own discussions with members of Black Lives Matter soon. But they were not taking any direct steps to exclude police, said vice-president Charmaine de Silva.

She added that several members of the Pride board would also be joining an alternative march the day after the parade in the Downtown Eastside.

Representatives of Black Lives Matter have agreed to lead Vancouver's Dyke March as Grand Marshall.

— Follow @TamsynBurgmann on Twitter

Tamsyn Burgmann, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version incorrectly stated Trayvon Martin died in a police shooting.

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