3 min

Police liaison committee criticized

Committee shouldn't have started public sex discussion say community leaders

Credit: Pat Croteau

A decision to re-open a public sex working group has met with “violent” opposition, according to Darryl Lim, the Police Liaison Committee’s chair.

The new working group, a subcommittee of the Police Liaison Committee, met in mid-July. But information about the meeting was not sent out to groups like the AIDS Committee of Ottawa or the Gay Men’s Wellness Initiative. (A representative of La Bras, a Gatineau AIDS organization, was present, according to Lim). Since that time, Lim claims, “complete misinformation” has been circulating in the gay community.

Lim says that the committee’s executive team made the decision after receiving a request for information from the police. But given the community response, the next meeting of the parks/public sex working group will be delayed–possibly indefinitely.

Ottawa’s AIDS activists are among those most opposed to protracted public meetings on the sometimes divisive subject.

“The police have been dealing with public sex in an appropriate manner. So why re-open the debate?” asksd Jay Koornstra, executive director of Bruce House. “Disbanding” the subcommittee is the “only sensible solution,” according to Koornstra.

“The police have more important things to do,” says Barry Deeprose of the Gay Men’s Wellness Initiative.

Deeprose fears that bringing up the issue of public sex will lead to a crackdown, reinforcing the “criminalization of gay sex,” and pushing groups vulnerable to AIDS further underground. Fragile park outreach projects could be threatened by further police intervention.

“I agree that these are vulnerable groups,” answers Lim.

But Lim insists that his goal is “to advocate for the [queer] community” by, for example, raising issues of victimization and outing and by recommending that trespass tickets be issued to those caught having public sex instead of pursuing criminal charges.

The Ottawa Knights’ Murray Lavigne agrees that those are appropriate goals for the Police Liaison Committee. But he worries that if the police become more active in the area of public sex, that some of the Knights’ activities — including invitation-only play nights — could be targeted. Lavigne has been asked to join the Police Liaison Committee this fall.

The history of Canada’s policing practices with respect to the queer community is extremely checkered. Like people of colour and young people, gays and lesbians fight persistent issues of over-policing, targeting, and selective enforcement. While not a recent issue with the city’s police force, events like the 2002 Calgary bath raids serve as a reminder that over-policing and selective enforcement still exist in Canada, and that we have to be “vigilant” here in Ottawa, according to Koornstra. The RCMP, which patrols NCC parks, is still harassing gay men.

“Like the lover’s lanes of yesteryear, I would hope that there would be no hoopla about sex that has been considered to be public but is private or out of view,” said Koornstra.

This is not the first time a parks/public sex working group has been formed from the Police Liaison Committee. In the late 1990s, they organized a sub-committee to address police reaction to public sex — including park cruising, bathroom sex, and bathhouses. The parks/public sex working group has been dormant since 2002, according to Lim.

“It seems that the issues that gave rise to the committee were resolved,” says Deeprose. Besides, while “there used to be a lot of wild washrooms, a lot of that has gone to the Internet.”

In terms of bathhouses and play nights, Deeprose believes that the issue was settled by a Supreme Court decision last fall. The 7-2 judgment vindicated two straight Montreal sex clubs battling over consensual sex at venues and events specifically designed for that activity. But sex in parks and public washrooms is not protected by the ruling

A Police Liaison Committee was struck in 1991 to advise the police on queer issues. Made up of volunteers from the queer community, the committee has sat continuously since then. The groundwork had been laid two years earlier, when members of the queer community began to organize around homophobic violence after a spate of anti-gay violence. They discovered that many gays and lesbians were afraid to report gaybashings to the police out of fear of persecution and homophobia on the part of the police. By 1993, Ottawa was considered one of the most progressive police forces in the country.