ActiveHistory.ca repost – Policing Gay Sex in Toronto Parks in the 1970s and Today

The editors of ActiveHistory.ca are currently enjoying our annual end of summer hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in September. During the hiatus, we’re featuring some of our most popular and favourite posts from the past year.  Thanks as always to our writers and readers.

The following post was originally featured on February 16, 2017.

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.

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