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Pussy Palace settlement bears fruit

New trans, gender-sensitive policies for Toronto police

The Toronto policeServices Board will soon be considering new policies on how cops handle the search and detention of trans people, and how they approach gender-sensitive venues like bathhouses.

The two policies, expected to be presented at the board’s Thu, Mar 23 meeting, were mandated by a settlement between the Toronto Women’s Bathhouse Committee and the Toronto Police Services Board in connection to the Sep 2000 raid on a Pussy Palace event in which five male officers entered a bathhouse event for women and trans people where men weren’t permitted.

“We anticipate [both policies] being passed,” says Janet Rowe, one of the Toronto Women’s Bathhouse Committee members consulting with police on the new policies agreed upon in the settlement.

“My biggest concern is that we’ll get a copy three days before the board meeting and we might need to respond with a deposition at the board, which doesn’t give us a lot of time to prepare a response.”

Although the members of the Women’s Bathhouse Committee provided input early on in the process, the proposed policies have been through multiple versions.

“We’ve been drafting back and forth,” says police LGBT liaison officer Const Jackie O’Keefe, adding that the policies have gone through the police’s legal department, been checked against case law and looked at by chief officers. “Everything has to be a certain way…. It’s not just banging out a piece of paper.”

Which is why it’s important that both the members of the Toronto Women’s Bathhouse Committee and the representatives of the Ontario Human Rights Commission see the draft before final approval.

“The policy we provided input to might look different [from the current draft],” says Rowe, “so it’s pretty important to see it before it goes to the board.”

O’Keefe says this won’t be an issue. “It’s going to happen, so you don’t have to worry about it.”

The update on the proposed policy was discussed at a Mar 2 subcommittee meeting, the first after a months-long lapse in communication between the police subcommittee members and the Toronto Women’s Bathhouse members. The last meeting of the subcommittee had been in November.

“We stated pretty clearly that it was not acceptable that we hadn’t heard in many months and they were pretty apologetic about that,” says Rowe.

O’Keefe says that the delay wasn’t a question of commitment to the process, but a matter of work being done internally and of scheduling problems due to holiday vacations.

“There are approximately two dozen people working on this but we don’t control people’s choice of leave,” says O’Keefe.

O’Keefe acknowledges that the drafting of the policy has been work-intensive. “I would venture to say there’s been hundreds of hours put into this to ensure that it is perfect. For me, I find it heartening. I’m excited to see it come to an end.”

Other agreements specified in the settlement involved the recruitment of queer and trans officers, and improved training for cops on queer issues. The settlement also included a $35,000 payment to the Women’s Bathhouse Committee, which was put toward legal expenses, the Bill 7 Award for queer and trans students and to fund community services projects for Toronto sex workers through Maggie’s.

In related news, the appointment of a new police-appointed cochair to the LGBT Community Police Consultative Committee is pending. O’Keefe says there’s a good chance the committee’s newest member will be present for the next meeting in April.

“The committee seems more invigorated,” says O’Keefe, who acts as liaison committee secretary. “We’re looking to develop more visibility in the community.”

“There was definitely concern that the consultative committee would be disbanded, so we’re pretty happy that that’s not happening,” says Rowe, adding that both the terms of the settlement and a report stemming from a community consultation coordinated by the women’s bathhouse committee last fall might provide a focus in terms of work to be done by the consultative committee.