Pride Winnipeg is inviting police officers to march in its parade, but not in uniform.

In a joint statement released Friday evening, between Pride Winnipeg and a number of LGBTTQ* community groups, the organization said officers will be free to represent the Winnipeg Police Service by wearing WPS branded clothing or carrying banners. However, police cruisers and uniformed officers will not be part of the parade.

On-duty police officers in uniform will provide traffic control and security along the perimeter of the parade.

The role of uniformed police officers during pride events has been the subject of debate since Toronto’s Pride Parade last summer, when Black Lives Matter temporarily halted the parade until Pride organizers signed off on a number of demands. One of the demands was to ban police floats and uniformed police officers from future parades. Black Lives Matter argued some groups, particularly black and transgender people, do not feel safe around police officers.

During the past 10 months, LGBTTQ* organizations across Canada have been faced with a decision about how they will respond.

“Toronto was definitely the spark, but the decision and the process was a locally-born decision,” said Jonathan Niemczak, president of Pride Winnipeg. “The whole process has tried to be as collaborative as possible.”

Winnipeg Police Service Insp. Gord Friesen said although the decision not to allow uniforms is “disappointing”, the reasons for it are understandable.

“Not surprising, but it’s something that we need to take a look in the mirror and say, ok, how can we do better?” said Friesen.

 “People are saying, well you’re being excluded from the parade. We’re not being excluded from the parade. We’re being included with defendable, in my opinion, conditions,” he said.

“If we can march as a group being identifiable as an organization but without weapons and uniforms, I think that that’s fair. I understand it.”

Friesen pointed out that officers will often approach members of the newcomer community in plain clothes, because some come from countries where the sight of a police uniform or vehicle sends a bad signal.

“They come from places where the police aren’t your friends. When the police come to your house, that’s not a good day. They are sometimes associated with the secret service and they are the oppressors.”

Pride Winnipeg spent 10 months consulting with community groups and launched an online survey. Niemczak said the group presented its findings to the Winnipeg Police Service.

Of the 600 respondents to its survey, nearly a third “wanted no police involvement in the Pride Winnipeg Parade, or requested that police do not participate in uniform,” said a statement from Pride Winnipeg.

A third of respondents were comfortable with uniformed police officers, but wanted firm commitments from the WPS to improve their relationship with the LGBTTQ* community. The last third of respondents either had no strong views on the issue, or were comfortable with the current state of the police relationship.

Friesen said the issue of police participation in the parade sparked a dialogue that wouldn’t normally have happened. Now, he said police will sit down with members of the community to find ways to improve relations.

Pride Winnipeg said it will meet with WPS within 60 days of the Pride Winnipeg Parade to discuss the next steps.

With files from Cameron MacLean