Policing Gay Sex in Toronto Parks in the 1970s and Today

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Tom Hooper

In the foreground, Toronto’s Marie Curtis Park, site of the 2016 arrests. Toronto and Region Conservation.

From September to October 2016, members of the Toronto Police conducted a six-week undercover investigation in Marie Curtis Park, located in the city’s west end.  72 people were charged with engaging in sexual acts.  Police Constable Kevin Ward has argued “it is a multi-faceted issue,” linking park sex with sex offenders, drugs, and alcohol.  Although 95 percent of those charged are men, police contend that sexuality was not the primary factor.  The problem is that there is a history of police unapologetically targeting men having sex with men in Toronto’s parks.

In September 1968, as the government of Pierre Trudeau was contemplating changes to the regulation of homosexuality, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police held their annual meeting.  They were overwhelmingly opposed to reform, proclaiming “there is too great an erosion of our moral principles.”  Echoing the idea that this is a ‘multi-faceted issue,’ they argued “the search for homosexuals for partners often leads to assault, theft, male prostitution and murder.”  Despite these fears, one year later, Trudeau’s Omnibus Bill was in effect.

The change to the law regulating homosexuality in the Omnibus Bill was merely a partial decriminalization.  Gross indecency, the provision outlawing gay sex, was not removed from the Criminal Code.  Rather, the Omnibus Bill added an “exception clause,” which allowed adults over 21 years old to be grossly indecent, provided they did so in private, and that only two people were present.  Queer activist Tim McCaskell noted, “all that Criminal Code amendments had done was to recognize the obvious.  The state could scarcely effectively surveil all the bedrooms of the nation.”  Using the loophole created by the exception clause, the police mobilized to charge men with gross indecency in spaces outside of the bedroom, namely, bathhouses, washrooms, and parks.  The limitations of the 1969 reform were highlighted by a group of queer activists on Parliament Hill in August 1971.  This protest was dubbed “We Demand.”

In 1971, Philosopher’s Walk, a pathway behind the Royal Ontario Museum connecting Bloor Street and Queen’s Park, was known as a gay cruising spot.  Continue reading

Does the Crowd Matter? The Moral Economy in the Twenty-First Century

By Tom Peace

Women’s Marches Then and Now

Over the past couple of weeks people around the world have taken to the streets in order to call politicians, business leaders, and civil servants to account. Though similar, no one event was the same. The Women’s March was carefully planned over two months between the US election and Inauguration Day; its purpose was to give voice to the open misogyny expressed by Republicans during the campaign. A week later tens of thousands flooded US airports to support travelers detained due to the idiosyncratic and illegal presidential travel ban targeting Muslims.[1] Two days after that, here in Canada, we mourned the killing of Azzedine Soufiane, Mamaou Tanou Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Aboubaker Thabti, Ibrahima Barry and Abdelkrim Hassane as they left a Quebec City mosque following prayers. Again, thousands took to the streets across the country voicing concerns over the rise of hate speech and its enablers.

As I participated in, and continue to think about the meaning of, these movements, my attention often turns to the historiography of the crowd. Continue reading

ActiveHistory.ca 2.0

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Our new look

Today we’re re-launching ActiveHistory.ca with a new look and a more secure online presence. Over the past year or two we’ve been tinkering with the site in an effort to improve readability and make older content more accessible: we’re hoping that this modest makeover will help a bit with those goals. Among the new features–besides our trimmed-down logo–are better scaling on mobile and tablet devices, and more convenient access to the post archive, whether through the “Features” tab, a keyword search, or simply clicking on any of the tags or categories that appear below every post.

Behind the scenes, we’ve switched over to a more reliable and secure server, and connected with Rob Clifford at Calico Logic for tech support. You won’t see much difference on the front end; just a site that works the way it should.

As always, this new version of the site is a work in progress. Please don’t hesitate to leave comments or e-mail info@activehistory.ca if you have ideas, bug reports, or suggestions… actually, on that note, give us a few days to get the email accounts back up and running. In the meantime, email jim.clifford@usask.ca.

We’re taking donations!

While revamping the webpage, we’ve also created an opportunity for you to support Active History financially through a new donations tab. Over the past eight years, the site has survived primarily through the volunteer labour of the editors and our contributors, with support from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, York University, the University of Saskatchewan and Huron University College. As the project and website have grown larger, requiring more online resources and support, we have increasingly felt it important to have dedicated funds available for upkeep: to keep the servers running, to solve technical problems, to make sure that the more than 1,000 blog posts, papers, podcasts and exhibits on ActiveHistory.ca have a stable and secure home.

It has always been our goal to support projects that align with our goals. Over the coming months, we will also roll out programs that will use donated funds to help seed new Active History projects and recognize exemplary practices of Active History throughout Canada. Huron University College has agreed to support the donations system and account, which is subject to all of the college’s fiscal oversight mechanisms, with co-editor Thomas Peace acting as coordinator for this new initiative. Inquiries can be directed to him at tpeace@huron.uwo.ca.

Canada, UFOs, and Wishful Thinking

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Matthew Hayes

Novelty UFO in Moonbeam, Ontario. Wikimedia Commons

If you’ve ever done even a cursory search on UFOs, chances are you’ve come across that mythical American investigation, Project Blue Book. It officially ran from 1952 until 1969, at which point the infamous Condon Report denied any scientific basis to UFOs and the US Air Force shut down its investigation. Depending who you talk to, the American projects remain shrouded in mystery and intrigue. I imagine even the most diehard skeptics would be forced to admit that the US probably still has classified documents they’re not yet willing to release. Who knows what they might contain.

But as interesting as all that is, what excites me more is the fact that we Canadians also have UFO documents. And quite a lot of them too. Approximately 10,000 of them, all housed at the national archives in Ottawa. I know this, because I currently have copies of every single page sitting on a hard drive on my desk. And I currently have several ATIP requests in for several hundred (or even thousand) more. When I tell people what my dissertation project is, one of the most common responses is: “I didn’t even realize Canada had a UFO archive.” Last time I was at Library and Archives Canada, I told an archivist that I was studying Canada’s UFO documents, and was authoritatively told: “Well, this isn’t serious work.” There may have been a tentative question mark tacked onto the end of that statement.

In truth, it’s not really an archive at all. More like a keyword search.[1] Those 10,000 documents are spread around all over the place, but are clustered mainly in Department of National Defence and RCMP files. They start around 1945 and go all the way to the mid-1990s, when it seems the Canadian government had had enough, and stopped collecting reports of UFO sightings. There are sighting reports galore. Thousands of them. And they run the gamut from hilarious to baffling to downright boring. Continue reading

Trump & Mexico: Interventionism Again?

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Joseph Tohill

A lesson from the past? US marines raise flag in Veracruz, Mexico, 1914

If there’s any truth in the old adage that those who don’t know their history are condemned to repeat it, then Americans are in for a rough four years. The administration’s sometimes calculated but always casual disregard for the truth (some would say, reality) has become a hallmark of the administration’s first few weeks in office, beginning with false claims about the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd (“largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period”) and following up with a daily dose of “alternative facts.” Along with its flagrant disregard for the truth, the Trump administration has so far demonstrated a profound ignorance of America’s history, as evidenced by Trump’s recent comments at a Black History Month event about noted abolitionist Frederick Douglass. (Douglass, he said, “has done and amazing job and is being recognized more and more.”)

Trump clearly had no idea who Douglass was. For any president not possessed of the towering self-regard of Donald Trump, this would have been a moment of acute embarrassment—a gaff that would have had White House representatives rushing to clarify the president’s remarks and reassure the public (and especially the African American audience) that of course the president knows who Frederick Douglass was. Instead, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer’s response to a reporter’s request for clarification about what Trump meant by Douglass being “recognized more and more” demonstrated that he, too, had no idea that Douglass is no longer alive, having died 122 years ago.

Of course, history doesn’t actually repeat itself, nor does an ignorance of history really condemn anyone to repeat the mistakes of the past. But there are lessons that we can draw from past mistakes. In the realm of foreign policy, one of the most important is surely that intervening militarily in other countries in the name of stability has rarely produced the intended result, or, when it has, it has been at tremendous cost to the recipients of American ‘help.’ Continue reading

Remembering the Voyage of the St. Louis

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By Laura Madokoro 

Museum Jewish Heritage Twitter feed, 1 Feb 2017

The past two weeks have witnessed a bewildering amount of activity in the United States with regards to the admission, and exclusion, of migrants and refugees from seven majority-Muslim nations. On January 25 and 27, President Donald Trump issued two Executive Orders that immediately barred Syrian refugees from US resettlement, barred permanent and temporary migrants from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen for 90 days and slashed US refugee resettlement efforts in half, while suspending the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days, except for a small number of Christian minorities fleeing religious persecution.[1]

The response we have seen has been mixed. Outrage and protests in the United States and around the world, with swift actions by lawyers and state authorities, but also a 49% approval rating for Trump’s actions. At the time of writing, a federal court in Washington had lifted the ban and the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals was hearing arguments from both sides about whether the ban could be legally re-imposed. All expectations are that a Supreme Court challenge is imminent. These are sobering, sobering times to say the least.

As someone who researches the history of refugees, I have been unmoored by the speed and viciousness with which the Trump Administration has acted against a select group of migrants. I am at the same time buoyed by the strength of popular protests and the efficacy of activists and legal experts in pushing back against actions that are seemingly unconstitutional and definitely unconscionable. Yet as a historian I remain disquieted by the ease with which the Administration has disregarded decades of work designed to shelter people fleeing dangerous circumstances from the very discriminatory policies that it is now advancing. Continue reading

The ‘Right’ to Bear Arms in Canada

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R. Blake Brown

Canada’s National Firearms Association is one of several voices advocating for the rights of gun owners

The recent mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque risks reopening Canada’s gun control debate.  Any such debate will sound familiar. Proponents and opponents of firearm regulation since the 1970s have largely repeated the same arguments. If you listen carefully, however, you may hear a different argument that until recently has not been part of mainstream public discourse: that Canadians have a constitutional right to possess arms.

This idea has an influential new champion: John Robson. Robson possess a PhD in American History from the University of Texas at Austin. He writes columns for the National Post, produces a blog: John Robson Online: True Canadian Values in a Complex World, and makes documentaries with titles such as “Magna Carta: Our Shared Legacy of Liberty.” In advertising his most recent documentary, “A Right to Arms,” he asserts that “your right to bear arms is as Canadian as maple syrup.”[i] Robson also suggests the existence of such a right in a recent article published in the Dorchester Review, entitled, “Armed Canadians: A Brief History.”[ii] He claims that the English constitution, and by extension the Canadian constitution, traditionally included a individual right to possess firearms.

Robson’s suggestion in the Dorchester Review that Canada received such a right, however, does not withstand scrutiny. Continue reading

History and Historical Preservation

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Richard White

A nicely-restored, well-maintained residential Street in the Cabbagetown-Metcalfe HCD (2002). City of Toronto

Some ten or fifteen years ago a group of residents in my Toronto neighbourhood, a pre-WWI ‘streetcar suburb’ known locally as the Beaches, began the process of making parts of it a Heritage Conservation District (HCD), a designation that would impose controls on physical changes to buildings. My immediate response was to oppose them. I was not entirely sure why, and I was somewhat surprised at my own reaction. I enjoyed the ambience of our hundred-year-old streets, as well as the many conveniences that come from pre-automobile residential densities, but the idea of a municipal bylaw freezing these physical qualities in place seemed wrong.

The initiative died within a year or two. The City found, through formal surveys, that more residents opposed than favoured it and took no further action. My street was saved from the preservationists and, as things have turned out, recently acquired a splendid new modern home – all flat and square – on a double lot formerly occupied by a 1940s house.

But the experience lived on in my own mind as I pondered why I, as a historian, should have opposed the initiative. History and preservation always go together, as do historians and preservationists. Nearly all historically-minded people I know are heritage advocates. Every ‘historical association’ I have ever encountered exists to preserve the past. Indeed, a group called the Toronto Historical Association gives as its mandate “educating, researching, protecting and advocating for heritage in Toronto”. But why should this be so? As I reflected on it, I began to realize that I opposed preservation because I was a historian. Continue reading

Canada’s Young Ambassadors: The Halifax Junior Bengal Lancers

By Claire L. Halstead

The Junior Bengal Lancers on display in Parade Square. Photo courtesy of the Lancer Archive.

Opening with scenes of Halifax harbour viewed from atop Citadel Hill, the 1956 RKO-Pathé production entitled “Canadian Lancers” turns to scenes of youth riding across green grass in the centre of Halifax. The narrator proclaims, “The junior Lancers, an accomplished children’s riding group, has its own riding ground; this is the mecca of young and hopeful equestrians”. The film follows the young Halifax Junior Bengal Lancers to Annapolis Royal where they perform their famed “musical ride” in all its splendor in celebration of the town’s founding.[1] Their colourful uniform, modeled after the English army India service uniform, consisting of a red tunic, khaki jodhpurs, white gloves, a white pith helmet and, of course, a lance complete with a flag, added to the spectacle.

That a small children’s riding club from Halifax, Nova Scotia rose to public acclaim and became featured in an international film production in such a short period of time since its founding, gives pause. Continue reading

History not Enough: A Look at the Climate of Reconciliation in Canada Today

Today we re-post the first in an Acadiensis series that features students from Jerry Bannister’s undergraduate and graduate Canadian Studies and History classes at Dalhousie University.

By Mercedes Peters

Canadians following the news lately could probably say something about The Tragically Hip’s ailing frontman, Gord Downie, and his most recent artistic endeavor, The Secret Path.[1] The conceptual album, paired with a graphic novel designed by artist Jeff Lemire, tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, an Anishinaabe child who froze to death trying to escape his Northern Ontario residential school in 1966. Reactions to the album, to the CBC special which broadcast the live performance of The Secret Path, and to the accompanying documentary film have been generally positive. Many see it as a continuation of the efforts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), whose mandate to collect and tell the stories of Indian Residential School (IRS) survivors ended with the release of their final report in June, 2015.[2] Downie has been praised for his dedication to indigenous rights, and for once Canadians are participating in a dialogue about a once neglected history, acknowledging the horrors indigenous people in Canada have faced for centuries.

This is a good thing. We need sustained conversations about IRS in the public sphere; we need them in the government. In this regard, the TRC has been crucial to ensuring that Canada does not forget this history, as has the work of Gord Downie and others like him. The history is important, the people dedicating their time to spread this knowledge are indispensable to the reconciliation movement, but Canada is only looking at a history, past tense, and that serves as a cause for worry. It appears that our satisfaction with these endeavors leaves us content with merely recognizing a tragic story. The real work — asking tough questions of ourselves and taking action to combat the legacy of these institutions and the existence of the systems that allowed the schools to flourish in the first place—goes undone. Continue reading