Ontario’s premier was embraced as the VIP of what’s billed as Canada’s largest gay pride parade, alongside a host of other political figures and colourful characters celebrating equality.
Premier Kathleen Wynne, the first openly gay premier and the first sitting premier to attend the festivities, dodged water guns and frisbees as thousands of supporters of the gay and lesbian community chanted her name and reached over barriers to touch her in the city’s downtown core.
Standing on garbage cans and climbing atop roofs along Toronto’s Yonge St., crowds estimated in the hundreds of thousands by Toronto police sprayed water and waved rainbow flags in celebration of what has traditionally been the largest event of its kind in the country.
Wynne was joined by NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and former Ontario premier Bob Rae at a church service held before the parade to kick off the day’s festivities.
“For me it’s a really central part of this celebration,” she said, adding that she and her partner Jane Rounthwaite had attended the church services for the past 20 years.
“I think that it’s a very important part. The music is fantastic, it’s inspirational and it really gives people a sense of the community and being together.”
The outdoor event, which focused on the theme of “celebrating everyone,” saw people singing and dancing to music as they packed the church grounds.
“There’s still a lot of discrimination against the community and it’s important to show that diversity is something to be respected and celebrated and it’s going to be a great day to do it,” said Mulcair.
Trudeau marched alongside Wynne and Rae in the parade, waving a rainbow flag and getting soaked by the crowd.
“It’s my first time [at the event] in Toronto, I’ve celebrated many times in Montreal, but the energy here is just astounding. It’s wonderful to see such celebration, such positivity and such pride,” said Trudeau.
“Around the world people don’t have the same rights and showing that it doesn’t have to be that way and reminding people that they’re not alone and that we have a community here that is fighting for rights and fairness and equality — this is what we stand for as a community and this is what we have to continue fighting for.”
Rae said before the parade that although he had retired from politics, he still felt it was important to attend the event because he was among neighbours and friends and is very glad to be a part of the community.
“30 or 40 years ago for a kid to come out to his parents was a huge, huge ordeal and many kids ran away from home and many kids were not able to be themselves for a long time,” he said.
“We’re now seeing that change and this has become an event of celebration for the whole city and you’re going to see that all day — it’s quite fantastic.”
New Democrat MPs Craig Scott and Olivia Chow were also in attendance at the church event and were later joined by Mulcair and other Toronto-area politicians on the NDP float in the parade.
“It’s an inspiration, it talks about love, it talks about equality and justice,” said Chow, who added that if her late husband former NDP Leader Jack Layton were still alive, he wouldn’t have missed it.
“I think politicians should play a small role in making everyone feel proud of who they are. And it sends a very clear signal that discrimination and hatred have no place in this country or this world.”
Chow added the fact that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was noticeably absent from the festivities was “up to him,” adding that she hoped he is enjoying his time at his cottage.
The mayor has said his family tradition of a cottage gathering on the Canada Day long weekend keeps him from attending the popular street event — a reason some in the gay community have called a flimsy excuse.
It’s the third time in as many years that Ford has missed the event, although he did attend last week’s flag raising ceremony to commence Pride Week.