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New police sensitivity training

Teaching old cops new tricks

Toronto queers may find the police becoming more sensitive to their concerns.

As part of the settlement in a lawsuit filed over the raids in September 2000 on the Pussy Palace lesbian bathhouse, police agreed in 2004 to institute sensitivity training for the entire force. The police also agreed to emphasize hiring recruits from the queer community and to establish a policy concerning the detention and search of transsexuals. The settlement was legally completed in the summer of 2005.

JP Hornick, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, says the original deadline to institute the training was the end of 2005. But she says everyone on the committee organizing the training — including Pussy Palace organizers, police and the Ontario Human Rights Commission — agreed to extend the deadline.

“By the time the thing was settled, by the time we could get everyone around the table, it was ridiculous. All the parties agreed to extend the deadline to ensure it was done properly.”

The bathhouse organizers used the extra time to conduct consultations within the community.

“There were a series of small consultations that were held with different interest groups, trans people, bar and bathhouse owners,” says Hornick. “Then we held a general interest meeting at The 519 [Community Centre]. That was pretty large, we had about 50 people. There were also questionnaires available at The 519 and other places. We presented those results at a meeting with police in mid-November.”

Hornick says she’s pleased with the way the discussions are going.

“It’s a bureaucracy, so it’s a slower process than you might want. But overall I am satisfied.”

She says the police, under new chief Bill Blair, seem genuinely open to instituting changes.

“At the very least, this is an opportunity to improve relations. The new chief and the direction he’s trying to take the force are interesting. There’s a lot of potential.”

The police representatives on the committee also feel things are moving in the right direction.

Chuck Lawrence, the manager of training and development for the Toronto Police Service Training And Education Unit, says the police are already instituting new policies toward transsexuals.

“The transgendered issue is something we weren’t handling all that well. Now we’ve decided that you use the physical status of the person as a guide.”

Lawrence also says officers will be trained to identify transsexuals by both their gender and name of choice.

Lawrence says it’s a complex undertaking to institute training for thousands of police officers. He says the officers are trained in two separate groups, one for plainclothes officers — who conduct liquor and licensed premises inspections, including bathhouses — and one for the general force. He says that with licensed premises, maybe the police and the owners can find other ways of resolving issues.

Lawrence says he thinks the committee has been a positive experience for everybody.

“We’re getting very good input from the complainants. Some of the complainants who are on our little committee have a background in education, which is very helpful. They don’t always understand the realities of policing. But I think there’s been a lot of learning on both sides.”

Jackie O’Keefe, the police liaison officer to the queer community, says a significant part of her year has been spent on this. O’Keefe says senior officers seem even keener than city queers.

“I have never received a single phone call [from the community] asking what’s happening.”