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Yukon RCMP breach agreement with Queer Yukon by attending Pride flag raising in uniform

High-ranking Yukon RCMP officers broke an agreement with Queer Yukon last month by showing up to a Pride flag-raising ceremony in uniform, a decision Queer Yukon’s president says showed “blatant disrespect” for the community.
Joe Wickenhauser, Yukon Pride Centre executive director, right, along with Premier Sandy Silver and Minister Jeanie Dendys, kick of Yukon’s Pride festival by raising a Pride flag at the Yukon government’s Main Administration Building in Whitehorse for the first time in history on July 31, 2020. High-ranking Yukon RCMP officers broke an agreement they had with Queer Yukon last month by showing up to the flag-raising ceremony in uniform. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

High-ranking Yukon RCMP officers broke an agreement with Queer Yukon last month by showing up to a Pride flag-raising ceremony in uniform, a decision Queer Yukon’s president says showed “blatant disrespect” for the community.

Some community members felt “confusion, anxiety and a sense of intimidation” due to the visible police presence at the flag-raising in front of the Yukon legislative assembly on July 31, Queer Yukon said in a statement published to its website Aug. 9.

Officers in uniform appeared at the event, according to the statement, even though Queer Yukon had told the RCMP, including speaking directly with Chief Supt. Scott Sheppard, earlier that month that police uniforms and other symbols were not welcome at the Yukon Pride Festival.

“Our priority in all of our events is making sure that everyone in our community feels safe being there,” Emily Tredger, president of Queer Yukon, told the News Aug. 10.

“There’s a long (violent) and discriminatory history between the RCMP and the queer and trans communities and that’s still going on today … We know if there’s RCMP there in uniform there’s people who aren’t going to feel safe, so that’s why we made our decision (to ask police not to attend in uniform).”

Queer Yukon is not alone or unique it its request for police officers to not attend Pride events in uniform. Organizations and activists across Canada and the U.S. have long made similar requests, citing the origins of Pride — the festivals as we know them today stem from the 1969 riots by members of the LGBTQ2S+ community in New York City, triggered by a police raid at the Stonewall Inn gay bar.

Sheppard was not available for an interview, but the Yukon RCMP shared an email with the News that he wrote to Queer Yukon on Aug. 5. In it, Sheppard acknowledged that “Queer Yukon’s position on police involvement for pride events has been well annunciated and I make no claim of it being misunderstood or it being otherwise ambiguous.”

He explained that he and another officer were at the legislative assembly for a media briefing on opioid overdoses that was taking place the same day and that Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee had invited them to attend the flag-raising.

“This was quite simply one of those awkward moments and we both attended,” Sheppard wrote. “… In hindsight it would have been better to have taken the time at that moment to better inform the Minister in perhaps stronger language we were not invited for a variety of reasons but I did not. That is my responsibility and I apologize for not having done so.”

McPhee was not available for an interview either, but Yukon government spokesperson Matthew Cameron provided the News a letter she wrote to Queer Yukon stating she wasn’t aware that uniformed police weren’t welcome at Pride and apologizing for the situation.

Tredger told the News that the incident wasn’t about McPhee, but the RCMP’s choices that day.

“I just want to really emphasize that they blatantly broke our agreement and they came to attending an event in uniform,” she said. “And they’ve apologized but … it’s easy to make an apology. It’s easy to say that you support a community but actions are what shows whether you actually support that community and their actions showed deep disrespect.”

Queer Yukon also received a message from another “high-ranking RCMP officer” who attended the flag-raising with Sheppard.

In it, the officer accuses Queer Yukon of taking an “eye for an eye” approach in holding the RCMP accountable, and claims that although he’s faced racism in the past, the society’s messages to Sheppard “have been the most intense form of discrimination I have ever endured, not because of the color (sic) of my skin, but because of the profession I chose.”

Tredger described the officer’s allegations of discrimination as “absurd.”

“There’s decades … harm and discrimination from the police towards the queer and trans and other marginalized communities, and really, what he’s saying is us asking him not to bring his symbols is the same as all that violence and harm,” she said. “And it’s not, and it’s not even sort of the same thing… The police have so much power, and to say that we’re discriminating against them really erases that history and present and shows that he doesn’t understand what his power means.”

Queer Yukon is still determining its next steps, Tredger said, but she thinks that the ball was ultimately in the Yukon RCMP’s court when it comes to rectifying the situation.

“They’re an organization with so many resources and if they want to figure out how to make systemic change and learn from their mistakes and do differently going forward, they have all the resources they need to figure out how to do that,” she said. “And I think it’s up to them to do that work, to figure out what that is.”

“I think one of the things I feel,” she added, “is how can we trust the RCMP to fairly police the people in our community who are most vulnerable when … they can’t respect an agreement with the community leaders?”

Contact Jackie Hong at