June 22, 2016 - 6:30 PM
WINNIPEG - The RCMP say they will re-assess a decision to decline a permit for the first ever gay pride parade planned for a city in the heart of what's known as Manitoba's Bible Belt.
Other parades and events have closed down streets in Steinbach, a city of 14,000 people 65 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg.
But the Mounties told organizers of the July 9 pride march that they would have to stick to sidewalks because a lane of the street along the march route is partially under construction.
The moved caused an uproar Wednesday and the RCMP later said they would reconsider.
"The RCMP fully supports the LGBT community and the Steinbach pride parade. The Steinbach RCMP has been working with event organizers to find a safe route for the parade and its participants," a written statement from the RCMP regional headquarters in Winnipeg read.
"While a permit was initially declined for safety reasons, we are re-assessing the request. Our primary concern was and remains the safety of event participants. Our officers will be there to ensure security and are looking forward to walking alongside participants on July 9th."
The RCMP declined an interview request, as have many local politicians.
Steinbach Mayor Chris Goertzen, legislature member Kelvin Goertzen, who is not related to the mayor, and the region's member of Parliament, Ted Falk, have all said they will not attend the march and have communicated to the media by written statements.
Falk initially rejected requests to attend the event citing a prior commitment to a frog-jumping competition in a nearby town.
When that event's organizer said Falk should attend the pride march in Steinbach, Falk clarified that he would not because of his "values of faith, family and community."
The mayor and legislature representative have also cited prior commitments for their decision not to attend.
"I have already indicated on multiple occasions that I have a personal commitment on that day," wrote Kelvin Goertzen, who is also Manitoba's health minister, wrote.
"Like most (legislature members), I receive hundreds of invitations to important events every year. Regrettably, I'm only able to attend a small portion of these. In the past 13 years, I have not provided a detailed explanation to the organizers of past events why I've been unable to attend. Nor, has any event organizer ever demanded one."
Several of Kelvin Goertzen's Progressive Conservative colleagues attended the recent pride parade in Winnipeg, including Premier Brian Pallister. Brandon, the province's second-largest city, held its first pride parade last year.
In Steinbach, the third-largest city in the province, the prevailing attitude both in political circles and online is that pride organizers are welcome to march, but should not demand that politicians and others attend.
"Council believes that all people, including those who identify as LGBTQ, deserve to be treated with love and respect at all times," reads a statement from city council that included a notice that there would be no further comment.
"Council also recognizes the importance of recognizing the rights of individuals and organizations who hold different beliefs from those in the LGBTQ community," it continues.
"Council has not officially endorsed the July 9 pride march. Steinbach residents will decide for themselves whether they wish to attend this event."
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016