Toronto
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Cops are collecting gay men's names in parks

Cops are collecting the names of homos hanging in parks.



“I found the episode disturbing,” says a gay man who was standing out by the Riverdale pool (a popular cruising area off Broadview), around 1am.



“I was not doing anything, I was at my bike.” A police car passed him, then doubled back.



“They shined the light on me, asked me to come over, asked me for my ID, wrote down my name and address. I asked what this was about…. All they said was there had been some complaints of trouble in the park. And that was it.



“They were very pleasant. But I still found the situation disturbing. I had flashes of Nazi Germany, the SS asking civilians for their papieren.”



The man asked that his name not be used.



A similar incident occurred with a gay man at Queen’s Park, behind the legislature.



And a lawyer says that you don’t have to answer a cop who asks who you are for no particular reason.



“You don’t have to do anything,” says attorney Frank Addario. “You don’t have to answer any question, you don’t have to identify yourself. You can just keep on walking.”



Of course, a police officer may not take kindly to that attitude. “I always recommend politeness. There is no reason to escalate a situation.”



And while you have the right not to tell who you are, cops have the right to ask.



There’s also a hitch. There’s a grey area of criminal law where police can briefly stop you (an “investigatory detention”).



That means you’re doing something suspicious, and they have grounds to ask you who you are. If you’re panting and holding a big rock in your hands a block away from a screeching alarm coming from a newly broken window, for example, there may be grounds to hold you.



The difference can sometimes be hard to fathom. Warns Addario: “It’s not what’s in your mind, it’s [what’s] in his mind. He’s entitled to detain you. The proper response is, ‘Am I under arrest?’



“If their answer is no, then ‘I don’t choose to answer your questions.’



“It’s not the clearest area of the law,” Addario adds.



If you are arrested, you’re better off identifying yourself – and then calling a lawyer before saying anything else, Addario says.



The man stopped by the Riverdale pool says police never told him he was doing anything illegal (In fact, a Toronto city clerk couldn’t find any by-laws listed for park closing times. However, she says area park managers can set arbitrary rules like closing hours, which are then posted.)



Police have always harassed cruisers, at High Park, Cherry Beach, in Cawthra Square Park (when it had bushes and fewer overnight guests), and elsewhere. But under the special summer-long Community Action Policing program, cops are being paid to work overtime and jot down names and addresses of citizens on file cards. According to press releases from the mayor’s office, police are questioning up to 2,000 people a week.



Says the Riverdale man: “I’m not a very politically active person, but I have been very upset by the harassment that I believe the police are putting on the community lately, in ever increasing amounts.”