Durham police announced Monday, Aug 29 that they had arrested seven men for committing “indecent acts” in the Lynde Shores Conservation Area in Whitby.
The arrests were the result of a police sting operation in the area in response to complaints from the public and the Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority, which owns the area, says David Selby, a Durham Regional Police Service (DRPS) spokesperson.
The seven men, ages 49 to 71, were arrested over the course of a week and were observed by plainclothes police exposing themselves alone or having sexual relations with each other.
“This was out in public, on the property, on the lands in public,” says Selby. “I think there was times throughout the day these guys were found.”
One of the men was also charged with sexual assault after he told police that he was HIV-positive but did not disclose this to his partner. Another 11 men were ticketed for trespassing on private property; they were found in closed-off, environmentally sensitive parts of the conservation area but did not commit any “indecent acts.”
The DRPS is not releasing the names of the accused men.
Selby says that the accused learned of the cruising spot through websites.
“There was web-based communication as well as word of mouth that it was being talked about as a place to go,” Selby says.
Police did not release the name of the website that the accused men were using, but Lynde Shores Conservation Area has been listed on squirt.org as a cruising place since 2000. Squirt’s profile of the park was quoted in a CTV report about the arrests.
Squirt members have complained on the site’s message board that plainclothes police had been patrolling the area as early as July 15.
One warning on the site states that “Bird watchers think they own the place and interfere with their presence on my cruising. Most bird watchers are nice, but there are a few militant ‘Nazi’ types.”
The park is no place for sex, says Selby.
“The big deal is that when citizens go down and see this, they get very upset. When they ask us to respond, we respond,” he says.
But queer activists say that the police sting is simply a witch hunt against gay men.
“I think the police should be minding their own business,” says Peter Bochove, owner of Toronto’s Spa Excess. “This stuff is going on behind bushes, and the police reaction tends to be, Cut the bushes down. I wonder how many heterosexuals they arrested in the same time?
“Police will always say that people are complaining. If that’s true, the police should produce those complaints,” Bochove says.
Tim McCaskell, from AIDS Action Now, suggests that there are easier ways of diminishing public nuisance.
“You could give them tickets for public nuisance. If they’re repeat offenders, they could ask them not to come back,” McCaskell says. “To engage in a sting operation and try to arrest people would seem to me to be akin to entrapment.”