2 min

Acrimony at police meeting

The police will conduct background criminal checks for anyone who wants to sit on the proposed police liaison committee with the gay community.

“It’s unclear to me what criminal offences they would be unhappy with,” says Alison Kemper, executive director of the 519 Church Street Community Centre, which is pushing the new police committee. A group of about 50 people gathered Sep 17 at Metro Hall and agreed by an 80 percent vote to continue with the process.

At that meeting, Acting Supt Emory Gilbert called the background checks “not negotiable.”

That would seem to mean the police get to okay who sits on the committee.

Kemper says hookers should not be excluded. And those caught in the infamous 1981 bathhouse raids (which resulted in more than 300 arrests and massive gay demonstrations in protest) should certainly be allowed to take part.

“We’re not willing to silence our voices because police have criminalized these folks. We see real strong problems with the background checks.”

Kemper has standards. A fraud artist would not be welcome, she says. “Fraudulently representing yourself, ripping off organizations…. abuse of power and public trust would be significant to the committee.”

But she also says the gay community has little choice in going ahead with the project. Police will set up a liaison committee, she says. It’s a matter of who picks members – the gay community as a whole, or someone or something else.

She says the only hope is to keep pushing. “The fact that it continues means that there is pressure of police to undo the stupidity.”

Says Kemper: “I think this going forward is keeping a spotlight on the police. It’s not police sympathizers in the room with them, we’re talking about people with serious concerns. This is not another fundraising-for-police-bikes operation.”

June 13 Committee members attended the meeting and, in light of the police presence at the Pussy Palace last week, demanded the process be stopped. Those connected to the women’s bathhouse were also there, but said little, noting that charges may be pending.

Certainly officer Gilbert, of the Community Policing Support Unit, kept talking about trust. His speaking notes put a special emphasis on it.

Gilbert did not return Xtra’s call. Neither did police Inspector Bill Blair, who also attended the liaison meet.

Meanwhile, conspiracy theories abounded at the gathering, from accusations that a Pussy Palace complaint was filed just to stop the liaison process – by rightwing elements, by rogue cops, or even by leftwing gay activists.

Gay activist Rui Pires, who has worked hard on pulling together ideas on how the liaison committee should work, isn’t impressed with the Pussy Palace visit. “I do not understand why the police are so politically inept. It’s really pissing people off. I don’t understand why they do not get it, why there seems to be a crisis in management, control and accountability.”

Future meetings will focus on committee size, elections and trying to get police to give in on controlling membership.

The gay village itself already has what’s been touted as a direct pipeline to police, the Church-Wellesley Neighbourhood Police Advisory Committee. It’s about a decade old.

Has it worked? Have cops listened? “Let’s be honest,” says co-chair Tim Gendron. “Historically, this committee has been a joke. It’s been ill run and there’s not a lot of credibility.”

But Gendron says that’s all changed since he came on board. “I’m a moderate, sane person.” He’s asked police not to lay charges in the Pussy Palace mess. He also says that cops went in because of complaints, and found liquor violations. So he understands.

And he says the local committee is important. “I really wanted an avenue for people to talk to me. With my talks with [police chief Julian] Fantino personally, he has assured me [gay issues are] on his agenda.”

The next Church-Wellesley Neighbourhood Police Advisory Committee meeting will be held at 6:45pm on Thu, Sep 28 at the 519 Church Street Community Centre.