2 min

On policing, gays forge ahead

Frustrated, folks begin to go around the liaison committee

The lessons for Ottawa’sgay-police relations are pretty clear. If mainstream gay groups fail to deal with pressing, ongoing gay and trans issues in policing, a new group of leaders will take charge, establishment be damned. It’s happening already in both Ottawa and Toronto.

In late October, the Ottawa Police’s gay liaison office unwittingly promoted a screening of Reclaiming Our Pride, Martin Gladstone’s agitprop documentary about Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA).

The anti-QuAIA folks and the battle they instigated were almost the undoing of Pride Toronto this year. The screening of the film, and its promotion by the gay-relations committee of the police, could kick off a Pride Toronto-calibre meltdown in Ottawa. Let’s hope not.

But the gaffe highlights the grim state of conventional police activism — either hopelessly naive or recklessly incompetent. It’s a far cry from what it once was, namely the territory of an astute group of gays, lesbian and trans people — the folks responsible for the establishment of the Police Relations Committee in the first place.

In Toronto, in the gap created by the failures of conventional police activism, a new clan is emerging, spurred on by the police’s heavy-handed approach during the G20. Those leaders, for instance, gathered in September in front of a Toronto community centre to protest a gay recruitment drive by the Ontario Provincial Police. (Full disclosure: I attended, wearing a homemade “Liberties were taken” t-shirt.)

The protest sharply divided people. Those accustomed to more conventional forms of police activism were aghast. After all, won’t gay and trans police officers make the force more gay-friendly? If we want our interests represented, don’t we need to be a part of the system?

The protesters included a large contingent of people who had interacted with police — on the wrong end of their batons during the G20, on the wrong end of sex-worker sweeps, on the wrong side of the door during the Pussy Palace raids. The existence of gay police officers — or Egale Canada, or a gay-police relations committee — hadn’t protected them from police harassment.

As police activists in Ottawa — especially those dealing with fallout from a recent high-profile HIV arrest — kicked into high gear this spring, they tried to deal with the gay-police relations committee and got nowhere. So instead, they sidestepped the liaison committee and went directly to the Police Services Board. Of course they did.

The thing is, I’m not worried about these new policing activists. They’re on a roll. I’m worried about the liaison committee. If they don’t figure out how to get involved, they soon will be rendered completely irrelevant.

Marcus McCann is the managing editor of Xtra. An earlier version of this column first appeared in Xtra’s Toronto edition.