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2007 07 20
Mad Pride 2007

Let’s face it: Torontonians aren’t really known for getting out onto the street and protesting. Sure, we have seen some rather large protests in the last few years around political issues in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Lebanon. But compared to cities like Montreal, we’re just not very prone to public demonstration. Something has to really really piss us off to get us out there, placards in hand, shouting “The people! United! Will never be defeated!”

Protesting thus being a relatively uncommon event, it does attract a great deal of attention from Torontonians when it happens. At last Saturday’s Mad Pride Day events, this was certainly the case.

Chosen in part to coincide with Bastille Day July 14th is also International Mad Pride Day, which seeks to not only bring public awareness to extremely damaging and coercive psychiatric practices, but also to empower the much marginalized group of psychiatric survivors and consumers.

Given the dominant discourse that ‘crazy people’ need to be ‘fixed’ to become ‘productive’ members of society, I anticipated much opposition to the protest. However, what I found when I arrived at the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) was a peaceful and joyous crowd, and more smiles than I had seen in any group of Torontonians for a long time. In fact, mere minutes after my arrival, an extremely friendly woman offered me a smiley face sticker to affix to my shirt.

Prominent lefty politicians were out in full force: City Councilor Gord Perks, M.P. Peggy Nash and M.P.P. Cheri Di Novo all gave rousing speeches. And despite my suspicion that they were just there for the photo op, their speeches spoke of discrimination, stigma, lack of political will to address mental health issues in a human way, and the fact that mental health issues cut across every social, economic and political strata. Most importantly, the crowd was extremely gratified to see that their tone was not condescending or patronizing; they spoke in solidarity.



But surely, I thought, during the main event (a parade across Queen St. from CAMH to the Parkdale Activity and Recreation Centre) trendy West Queen Westers would be less than encouraging? Wrong again: I counted three streetcar drivers that honked in solidarity as they rushed past, and countless motorists and passerby waved and even shouted their approval. Although many local residents looked confused as the parade passed by, not once did I hear any derogatory or even negative remarks. Even the politician led gurney (to symbolize escaping from oppressive psychiatric institutions) did not incite inflammatory comment.




Two moments of spontaneous warmth stand out in my mind.

A little West of Dufferin St. I noticed some local drummers across the street from where we were marching. They both took one look at the parade and immediately crossed the street to join our drummers. They drummed, they laughed, and within a few minutes they were gone, just as quickly as they had arrived. Not one word was exchanged.

Towards the end of the parade it started to rain, so I offered a fellow parade participant my umbrella. Together we marched in the rain, this unknown woman and I, and she told me of how much she was looking forward to an upcoming camping trip with her husband. She would often interrupt her own tale to shout at passerby “I’m mad and I’m proud!” These passerby, noting her incredibly colourful and completely mismatched outfit, seemed to conclude that the first part of her statement was self-explanatory. I wonder if they would think of her differently if they had heard the rest of our ‘normal’ conversation? How many of them were planning their own camping trips with their families? When we reached our destination, she returned my umbrella with such undisguised gratitude that I was left speechless.


Torontonians may not always be the first to voice their dissent on the streets, but we sure are supportive of those who wish to do so. I have no doubt that many observers enjoyed the parade more as spectacle than protest, but any event which facilitates impromptu drumming collaborations, spontaneous umbrella sharing and random social interaction is tremendously valuable to this city.

All photos by Liza Badaloo.
[email this story] Posted by Liza Badaloo on 07/20 at 07:09 PM

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