The news was shocking: Toronto Police Service spent the fall of 2016 soliciting men for sex and then ticketing or arresting them.
On Nov 11, 2016, we learned that Toronto officers had conducted an undercover sting operation in a cruising area of Marie Curtis Park in Etobicoke. Dubbed “Project Marie,” the sting netted some 72 people, charged with 89 offences.
Many folks see this as a gross overreaction and a misuse of public money. After all, the underlying activity — propositioning someone for sex — is altogether legal. That’s why most of the tickets are for bylaw infractions such as nuisance or trespassing, and others for provincial offences, not for violations of the Criminal Code.
If police wanted to control hanky panky in the park, there are many less intrusive ways to go about it. This kind of undercover sting operation has the potential to ruin the lives of these men and their families, all over something that, in most cases, is as serious as a traffic ticket.
At least we have a template for how to respond. After each successive police incursion into the ways we have sex — and most remarkably after the 1981 bathhouse raids — the script for dealing with these stings remains the same.
First: gay outrage. Despite police assurances, Project Marie targeted men who have sex with men. (Though a Toronto Police Service spokesperson told Daily Xtra they don’t know the sexual orientation of the individuals charged, the vast majority of people charged here are men.)
Even though some of these men are likely straight, the sting and its resulting charges rightly provoke a visceral reaction for many, bringing up feelings of guilt and shame, and pride and resilience. They are a reminder of every indignity, and also a reminder of our strength in the face of all that happens to us.
In 1981, that visceral rage spilled into the streets, and queer people and allies literally fought the police and took up the public space they had been denied.
Then, we organized, first by helping those who have been charged mount a defence.
Marcus McCann is a Toronto-based lawyer and former managing editor of Xtra in Toronto. If you were charged at Marie Curtis Park during Project Marie, contact Marcus at [email protected]