Members of the gay community reacted with shock and sympathy to news of the death of Christopher Peloso, husband of former deputy premier and mayoral candidate George Smitherman, Dec 30.
Peloso, 40, and Smitherman had adopted two children together and Peloso had an adult daughter from a previous relationship. The couple were well-known in the gay community from Smitherman’s decade as MPP for Toronto Centre and his advocacy on queer issues while in government.
“The news was devastating to all who know Christopher, George and their kids. His loss is being felt by many,” says Tyler Fleming, board chair of the 519 Church Street Community Centre. “George has contributed a lot to our community, and he often did it with Christopher at his side. Our thoughts are with George and their family at this terrible time.”
Community organizer and Liberal Party activist Todd Ross, who worked in Smitherman’s office during his time as a minister, recalled Peloso as a kind and generous person.
“I knew Christopher from when he and George were first dating,” Ross says. “When I was working at the minister’s office, Christopher was always thinking of the staff and sending chocolates from Lindt, where he worked. Everyone loved him.
“He also played a significant role for many LGBT youth by being a role model. His relationship with George was high profile, and he never shied away from the public spotlight as a proudly out parent,” he says.
Expressions of sympathy have poured in from all sides of the political spectrum, with tweeted messages of support coming from Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Ontario NDP and PC leaders Andrea Horwath and Tim Hudak, Mayor Rob Ford and federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, among many others.
“Saddened to hear of the death of Christopher Peloso, husband of George Smitherman. My thoughts are with the family,” Toronto Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam wrote on Twitter.
Chris Drew, a former Smitherman staffer and friend of the family who identifies as a straight ally of the community, says Smitherman and Peloso’s status as two of Canada’s highest profile same-sex parents helped open people’s eyes to different family situations.
“George and Christopher were really the first same-sex parents I’d ever met,” Drew says. “When you actually see it, it’s an amazing sight that the number-one thing that kids need is love and attention and a family.”
Drew occasionally babysits for Smitherman and Peloso’s children, who he describes as happy, fun-loving kids.
“Michael and Kayla are going to grow up with a lot of love and friends and family. They’ll turn into great adults,” he predicts.
While police are not releasing any details about Peloso’s death, it became widely known that he suffered from depression after he went missing for nearly two days in September. He was found by a police canine unit in a confused state near Toronto’s west-end rail tracks.
Peloso was again reported missing on Dec 29 and last seen in the same neighbourhood. Smitherman announced the following morning that police had confirmed he had been found dead.
“We will celebrate his life and we will find comfort somehow in knowing that he has found peace from the depression that has wreaked havoc on his mind,” Smitherman wrote in a statement.
Former MP Bob Rae wrote an editorial in The Globe and Mail calling for a national suicide prevention strategy in the wake of Peloso’s death.
A public celebration of Peloso’s life will be held at Wellesley Community Centre, at 495 Sherbourne St, at 11am on Fri, Jan 3. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be made to the Casey House Capital Campaign or the Psychiatry Research Fund of Toronto Western Hospital Foundation.