Toronto police have charged 72 people with 89 offences in a six-week-long operation aimed at cracking down on sexual behaviour in Etobicoke’s Marie Curtis Park.

The operation, known as Project Marie, involved undercover officers from 22 Division going into the park and either looking for sexual activity or arresting and charging men who allegedly solicited the officers for sex.

Meaghan Gray, a Toronto Police Service spokesperson, says that the police did not know the sexual orientation of the individuals charged, but could confirm that the vast majority were men.

According to Gray, the operation was prompted by a number of factors including reports of sexual assaults in the park, a handful of arrests for indecent exposure and a number of community complaints about sexual behaviour that was taking place.

Most of the charges were provincial offences or bylaw infractions related to sexual activity, though some people were also charged for drug-related offences. At least one person was also charged with a crime under the Criminal Code. According to the Etobicoke Guardian, one registered sex offender was arrested during the operation for allegedly exposing himself.

Men who approached undercover officers for sex, even if they had not engaged in any public sexual activity, were also arrested and charged with bylaw offences.

“If you’re soliciting for sexual activity to occur in the park, then that’s when it falls under the bylaw, because that communicating is included in the sexual behaviour which is prohibited in a park,” Gray says.

Constable Kevin Ward, one of the officers involved in the operation, told the Etobicoke Guardian that undercover officers were often solicited for sex.

When asked whether the majority of the charges were related to consensual sexual behaviour, Gray says that while she didn’t have a specific breakdown on hand, non-consensual sexual activity would have likely resulted in criminal charges, not just provincial or bylaw offences.

Gray says that the Toronto police do not know and would not comment on the sexual orientation of those charged and insisted that this was not an anti-gay initiative.

“Engaging in sexual activity period is not allowed in public spaces and that’s why we were there responding to those complaints,” she says. “Whether it’s men engaging in sexual activity, men and women, two women — it does not matter.”

The project started off with uniformed police officers going into Marie Curtis Park and letting residents know what they were planning on doing. Undercover officers were then deployed for the enforcement phase.

On Nov 19, police and a variety of community groups will hold an event where police officers and community members walk through the park together, pick up trash and hold a candlelight march to “take back the park.”

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