Why these queer women stand in solidarity with gay men opposing Project Marie

‘We are firmly calling out the hypocrisy’ of Toronto Police Service

Xtra Spark profiles current activism in our communities. This article stems from a partnership between Xtra Spark and Queers Crash the Beat in which we are supporting their activism with targeted media coverage that gives our readership pathways to take action.

On Nov 30, 2016, Xtra Spark received this letter from a group of LGBTQ women in Toronto, demanding accountability from police and elected officials for the recent Project Marie sting operation.

The women sent the letter to Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders on Nov 18, and copied the chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, the mayor, and City Councillors Shelley Carroll, Chin Lee, Kristyn Wong-Tam, Mike Layton and Joe Cressy.

They demanded a public reply by Nov 23. To date, the group has received no response.

Xtra Spark supports the women’s calls for accountability of police and elected officials outlined in this letter.

Dear Chief Saunders,

We are writing as a group of LGBTQ women outraged about the recent Project Marie sting operation conducted by Toronto Police Service at Marie Curtis Park that has resulted in charges to 72 individuals.

We are firmly calling out the hypocrisy of the TPS, which only a few months ago apologized for the 1981 bathhouse raids but has just conducted a mass undercover operation and laid charges using many of the same justifications and denials they employed in 1981.

The TPS seems to have learned nothing from losing a human rights complaint after the Pussy Palace raid of 2000. We will not accept empty apologies and pleas to build relationships with the LGBTQ community from a police force that then turns around and targets our members.

The ongoing nature of the Project Marie operations, TPS’ failure to respond to demands from the gay men’s community to immediately suspend operations at Marie Curtis Park, and the continued refusal on the part of police to adequately address policing and racial profiling in our LGBTQ communities causes serious concern for us.

Targeting of our communities based on race, class, gender, ability and sexuality is nothing new and it is why we refuse to accept this raid as a necessary or inevitable part of keeping our communities safe.

The TPS has a long, painful history of doing everything in its power to evade accountability and transparency with regard to the practices of racial profiling and carding and the profiling of trans women of colour sex workers, poor and homeless people and people with disabilities.

In this instance, Toronto Police Service received complaints about men having sex in the park and littering, and inexplicably turned this into an ongoing sting operation that targeted adult men seeking consensual sex with other adult men – a perfectly legal activity.

There were any number of more appropriate intervention measures that should have been explored before an expensive, deceptive mass sting that will lead to ruined lives.

Men who have public sex with other men are members of our communities and deserve to have a say in how public spaces are used. The Project Marie sting was unwarranted and damages public safety for people who are targeted by police. We demand that you immediately stop targeting men who have sex with men at Marie Curtis Park, and immediately disclose and cease any other similar operations currently underway in Toronto public spaces.

Policing public sex is an important issue for queer, transgender and sex working women because increased police presence compromises the safety and livelihood of those who do sex work, and poses a danger to homeless and underhoused LGTBQ people, two spirit and gender non-conforming people. Women of all orientations, transgender people, sex workers, and our gay brothers experience high levels of gender-based violence in public spaces and we have a sincere and vested interest in advancing nuanced and responsive strategies for creating safe(r) civic multi-use spaces.

We wholeheartedly reject the contention that safety for some women and children trumps the needs of LGBTQ and racialized communities — especially when it is clear that TPS does not consider protecting the safety and best interests of the trans women and sex workers as part of their responsibility.

We are also dismayed by Toronto Police Service’s handling of Project Marie in the media, namely by denying that the action targeted gay men or men who have sex with men, and through the erroneous and offensive conflation of gay sex with pedophilia. Several members of the gay community have spoken to the media to counter Toronto Police Service’s gross media misstep which publicly associated LGBTQ people with pedophilia. We share their outrage.

In a letter delivered to your office Tuesday, November 15, Paul Sutton detailed a series of demands, which we support and echo. These must be addressed in a timely manner. Further, we reiterate our demand for full public disclosure of any other sting operations targeting members of our communities in Toronto public parks, the cost of such operations, and who authorized them.

We would like to be informed of the further actions that you intend to take to address the demands outlined and to resolve the fallout from TPS’ gross mishandling of Project Marie in the media by Wednesday, Nov 23.

Lisa Amin, Barrister and Solicitor

Anthea Black, artist, writer, faculty member, OCAD University, Publications and Art and Social Change

Brenda Cossman, Professor of Law, Director, Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, University of Toronto

Chanelle Gallant, activist, former organizer against the Pussy Palace raid

Ms Leanne Powers

Gillian Rodgerson, writer and editor, Board of Directors, Pink Triangle Press; former member, The Body Politic Collective

Jessica Lynn Whitbread, Steering Committee, AIDS ACTION NOW!; Board of Directors, Canadian HIV Legal Network; former Global Chair for the International Community of Women Living with HIV

Mary Louise Adams, Professor, School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Queen’s University

Eleanor MacDonald, Associate Professor, Department of Political Studies, Queen’s University

How to support the signatories of this letter

Queers Crash the Beat, a group of activists who support the signatories of this letter and have publicly objected to the park sting, is organizing a public meeting to discuss the fallout from Project Marie and ask how the queer community should continue to respond to the operation. Some of the signatories will attend the event.

The public meeting will take place on Dec 13, 2016, at Glad Day Bookshop’s new location at 499 Church St.

RSVP on Facebook here.