Last week, members of the Toronto Women’s Bathhouse Committee, which was formed after a raid at a queer bathhouse event in 2000, published an open letter demanding a public meeting with Mayor John Tory over the appointment of Myron Demkiw as Toronto police chief on September 15. Demkiw is expected to assume the position on December 19.
On October 13, Chanelle Gallant and JP Hornick of the Toronto Women’s Bathhouse Committee denounced in an open letter Demkiw’s promotion to Toronto police chief because of his involvement in a raid of bathhouse event for queer women and trans people in 2000. Gallant and Hornick were both present at the event when the raid happened. More than 400 people and organizations have signed the letter in support, including Jill Andrew, MPP Toronto-St. Paul’s, Ontario NDPs Culture and Heritage critic and the Women’s Social and Economic Opportunities critic; the No Pride in Policing Coalition (NPCC) and Paul Ferreira, the former MPP for York South–Weston.
The police chief position is selected by the Toronto Police Services Board, which is chaired by Jim Hart, and of which Mayor Tory has been a member since the beginning of his first term in 2014. Carmela Demkiw, Demkiw’s wife, is currently senior director of Corporate Security Services at Rogers Communications. Mayor Tory has faced accusations of conflict of interest since his first term because of his ties with the Rogers corporation.
Mayor Tory has accepted a meeting with Gallant and Hornick that will include himself, board representatives and Chief Designate Demkiw “so that some of the specific matters [they] raised can be discussed.”
On October 15, Gallant and Hornick have rejected this offer for a meeting, citing in an email to Hart that “it is not appropriate for Mr. Demkiw to attend as the meeting’s purpose is for the community to voice their concerns about his appointment” and insisting on a public meeting as “this is very much a community issue, requiring a community response.”
Gallant and Hornick are demanding a public meeting with Mayor Tory and Hart to discuss Demkiw’s appointment. They want all community members who have been affected by the bathhouse raid and who are part of historically overpoliced demographics to be able to attend.
Tory spokesperson Lawvin Hadisi told the Toronto Star that the mayor “believes the chief designate is firmly committed to the reform and modernization work underway.” Ryan Teschner, the police board’s executive director and chief of staff, told the Star that he respects the court ruling on the Pussy Palace raid, and affirmed that the settlement resulted in efforts to recruit more LGBTQ2S+ officers and a gender-sensitive policy. He acknowledges that the public consultation for the selection of the next police chief emphasized commitment to communities, accountability, anti-discrimination and systems change. He stated to the Star that he will not comment further.
“We haven’t heard back on the public aspect of it. We were offered a private meeting with Demkiw, Hart and Tory. The idea was that if we just talked to them, we could just resolve it there and understand that his heart is in the right place. But that is not the problem. We want to know, how did this selection process unfold? Why was there no conversation about his history and ongoing participation in overpolicing particular communities?” says Hornick to Xtra. “This is not about getting rid of Demkiw. Because if the problem is built into the selection process itself, then the problem will simply replicate. We were able to catch and bring attention to his appointment. And our letter resonates with a broad swath of Torontonians because the process is flawed, and if that’s the case, then the outcome of that process will inherently be flawed.”
In 2000, Police Chief Designate Demkiw was then a member of the now-defunct vice squad. The night of the raid, Demkiw and four male police officers entered the premises of the Pussy Palace bathhouse event for a raid. They searched the club, saying they were checking for liquor licence violations, which they pursued in court. They did not give significant warning to the female and trans partygoers, many of whom were nude or semi-clothed, and threatened obstruction charges if attendees warned others in yet-raided parts of the club.
The queer community quickly rallied to denounce the raid. The Women’s Bathhouse Committee held a meeting at the 519 Community Centre and led a march down to police headquarters. Judge Peter Hyrn later found the actions of the police that night to be a violation of the attendees’ charter rights. In 2005, an Ontario Human Rights Commission complaint and class-action suit against the police filed by the committee was settled with a $350,000 settlement. In 2016, then-Toronto police chief Mark Saunders apologized for past bathhouse raids, specifically the 1981 raids. He did not mention the Pussy Palace raid. The Bathhouse Committee rejected the apology on the grounds that it did not involve meaningful change within the police force.
“It’s not gonna be satisfactory to anyone to have a closed-door meeting with the incoming police chief. People want to talk to them there. They want to talk to the police service board to understand how did they come to this conclusion,” says Kristyn Wong-Tam to Xtra. Wong-Tam is the Ontario NDP’s critic of LGBTQ2S+ issues and Toronto Centre MPP, which is home to Canada’s largest LGBTQ2S+ community and the site of many large bathhouse raids.
According to Gallant and Hornick, this is not the first time Toronto’s queer community has been ignored by the municipal government. Over the weekend, when the sitting mayor was campaigning in the Village, he took photos with members of the LGBTQ2S+ community while preventing one woman from asking questions about Demkiw’s appointment.
“This is exactly why we can only accept a public meeting, attended by yourself and Mayor Tory. Voices from across the community deserve answers about this process,” they said in a joint email to Hart and Mayor Tory.