Toronto
5 min

A vote, two Popes & some sad goodbyes

Devil's playground

GEORGE HISLOP. Credit: Joshua Meles

Most dramatic defiance of Pierre Trudeau’s legacy
Fred Henry, Roman Catholic bishop of Calgary, waded into same-sex marriage in February with these wise words: “The state must use its coercive power to proscribe or curtail [homosexuality] in the interests of the common good…. While the privacy of the home is undoubtedly sacred, it is not absolute. Furthermore, an evil act remains an evil act whether it is performed in public or in private.” His statement prompted two human rights complaints – from straight people.

Slickest deal with the devil
Egale Canada chooses not to critique Bill C-2, Canada’s new law on child pornography and exploitation, though parts of it could be used to quash the sexual expression of queer teens. Egale executive director Gilles Marchildon called the bill, “the lesser of two evils” because it didn’t raise the age of consent.

Most tired joke used as policy by a politician
“The fact is that homosexuals aren’t barred from marrying under Canadian law,” said Tory MP Jason Kenney in February. “Marriage is open to anyone – as long as they’re a man and a woman.”

Raciest committee hearings
The justice committee’s subcommittee on reforming Canada’s prostitution laws held cross-country hearings last spring. In Toronto Evan Smith told the committee: “I am a sex worker because I choose to be. I wasn’t abused. I don’t have a pimp except my landlord who wants rent. It’s a way to use my body to make money.” The committee’s work, after being delayed by a Conservative member, was put on hold for the election.

Yet another example of US meddling
Early last year US rightwing groups sent money to their marginal Canadian counterparts to fight same-sex marriage. Said Justice Minister Irwin Cotler: “I just would like to maintain the integrity of the Canadian political culture and the Canadian political debate and not see it skewered by the kinds of lobbying that comes from the States. We don’t want public opinion to get mortgaged to the highest bidder.”

Ugliest deportation scene
Wendy Maxwell, aka Nzinga – who came from Costa Rica to Canada as an exotic dancer but lost her status when she quit dancing – was apprehended by the police in March while selling cookies at an International Women’s Day table. The bisexual activist and broadcaster was held in detention for several weeks and then deported. She posted this on-line message from Costa Rica in May: “My application for landed immigrant status in Canada under humanitarian and compassionate grounds was denied. The reasons given were all frustratingly absurd…. I don’t know if I’m safe or not but I must trust my beloved ancestors and God that I am.”

Biggest personality change
In April Bill Blair took over the job of Toronto police chief from cranky and paranoid Julian Fantino. Blair marched in June’s Pride Parade, a first for a police chief. His June interview with Xtra was also a first: “Consensual sexual activity quite frankly isn’t a priority for the police,” he said.

Least improved Christ figure
Pope John Paul II kicked it in April. One of the first directives of his successor Pope Benedict XVI was to prohibit the ordination of men with “deep-seated” gay tendencies, though those who could show they had overcome “transitory” homosexuality for three years might be okay.

Best first try at trans
Openly gay New Democrat MP Bill Siksay introduced a private member’s bill that would include gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination. “Even if it dies on the order paper [which it did when the election was called], it will have had at least some effect in educating the members who’ve been part of the debate,” said trans woman Caitlin Glasson.

Sloppiest handling of a silly controversy
Criticized for insensitivity for its Bollywood Cowboy theme for Fashion Cares in May, the AIDS Committee Of Toronto immediately caved and said it was sorry for being insensitive toward South Asians, though it ended up being one of the best shows in years. “It’s just a fashion show, as opposed to an affront to our goddesses, and I’m a good Hindu,” filmmaker Deepa Mehta told the Star.

Oddest icon
Alexander Wood, who in the 1800s owned property in what is now Toronto’s gay village, is honoured by a large bronze statue, unveiled in May at the corner of Church and Alexander. Wood was the centre of a homophobic scandal when he is said to have inspected the “members” of young men while investigating a sexual assault. A plaque depicting a naked bum is affixed to the base; passersby can’t seem to stop touching it.

Biggest nuptial denouement
Though same-sex marriage was already legal in most of Canada, the July passage of same-sex marriage into law in June was at least a victory for our popularity, with 158 MPs supporting the bill, 133 opposing in a kinda free vote. The House Of Commons immediately adjourned for the summer. “It was a social project of our entire nation that no one person was responsible for,” said Douglas Elliot, a lead lawyer in many marriage cases.

Most pathetic response to a court decision
In August new rules came into effect for the Ontario Film Review Board, adjusting some of its powers to censor film and video. Though the judge in Glad Day Bookshop’s court challenge said the OFRB shouldn’t be exercising prior restraint, the new rules maintain that power.

Longest wait for a little respect
Five years after five male cops did their walkabout at the women-only Pussy Palace at Club Toronto, the Toronto Police Services Board seals a deal with organizers, giving the group $350,000 earmarked for charities and legal fees in light of how the cops violated their constitutional rights. In return for withdrawing its human rights complaint and threatened lawsuit, the committee also got written apologies and a commitment that police officers will get sensitivity training.

Raunchiest, nastiest, dirtiest goodbye
After 31 years, Toronto’s premier leather bathhouse closed its doors in August. Wrote Xtra contributor Shaun Proulx of the Barracks: “There was no attitude, no posing. Just down to business, whatever, whenever, wear my piss, go easy with that fist and got any Crisco?”

Most dramatic arrest
After a “high-risk takedown” on Aug 26, police charge Ivan Mendez-Romero for murder in connection to the October 2004 slaying of his longtime lover Janko Naglic. Police had pulled out all stops investigating the death, including a reward and poster campaign. Naglic’s pride and joy, the Barn nightclub on Church St, closed in the summer and was expected to go on sale.

Most caffeinated legacy to conclude
In September, Second Cup on Church St closed after 21 years of business at the corner of Church and Wellesley. The steps outside, famous for loitering, cruising and gossiping, had been sealed up in 2004.

Loudest door slam after quitting
Alex MacLean, constituency assistant and ex of city councillor Kyle Rae, resigned from his job in September after the two have a dispute over the proper reaction to a homeless man beaten to death in Rae’s ward. “Kyle, I hope you will have the good grace not to run again,” MacLean wrote in Xtra.

Most heartfelt goodbye
George Hislop passed away on Oct 8, after a lifetime of very public gay life, 19 years after his partner of 28 years, Ron Shearer. His death at 78 came just two months after the federal government issued him an interim cheque for $14,687.70 – a portion of the Canada Pension Plan benefits he had been fighting for in the last years of his life.

Most divided decisions
The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal issued an interim ruling in November that Ontario must pay for sex reassignment surgery for three complainants – but that it doesn’t necessarily have to pay for other people who are in the same boat. Meanwhile, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal ruled that it was okay for Roman Catholic group Knights Of Columbus to deny a lesbian couple a hall for their wedding reception, but that it should have been nicer about it. The tribunal ordered the Knights to pay the lesbians $1,000 each for injury to their dignity, feelings and self-respect.

Most vindicated bad boy
Openly gay politician André Boisclair became leader of the Parti Québécois in November, despite concerns about his past cocaine use, including when he was a cabinet minister in the 1990s.

Most foolish political move
On the first day of the federal election campaign, Stephen Harper threatened to reopen the same-sex marriage debate and host another free vote on the much-ruled-upon, much-committeed, much-voted-upon issue.