1 min

The final chapter?

The AIDS tree apology

The sister of a dead gay man whose memorial tree was cut down has received an apology from Downtown City Councillor Kyle Rae.

“Kyle Rae did personally apologize to me on the phone, says Karen McPhee, the sister of James McPhee.

“All I ever wanted was an admission of fault,” she says.

McPhee says the city councillor told her he was “very disappointed” with how his staff responded to the incident. “He said he didn’t think they had done the job they were supposed to do.”

McPhee was also looking for Rae to apologize publicly, and that Rae told her he’d do so to any media that came calling.

Rae did not return a call from Xtra to his office.

A memorial birch was planted in Cawthra Square Park, behind the 519 Church Street Community Centre, in James’s name. The young man died of an AIDS-related illness in 1991. The tree was cut down in May.

Jearld Moldenhauer, who had paid for the memorial, found the decapitated stump a week after he’d cleaned the area around the plaque laid at the base.

Moldenhauer says the tree was a healthy swamp birch.

Both liken the birch’s disappearance to the desecration of a grave (James was cremated, and there is no burial site).

Frustration mounted as neither could get an answer from Rae’s office or the forestry division of Toronto’s Parks And Recreation Department.

Rae’s office said the culprit was either vandalism or disease.

In fact, a request under the Municipal Freedom Of Information And Protection Of Privacy Act uncovered the truth. An anonymous forestry employee made the request – but no paperwork existed, according to the official response to the freedom of info request filed by McPhee.

It turns out that isn’t quite true, either.

Moldenhauer later discovered the existence of a worksheet with details of what happened to the tree (it was forwarded by another city employee).

McPhee worries that others may have to go through this. “Is it a standard practice that this happens all the time?”

Moldenhauer (the founder of Glad Day Bookstore on Yonge St and McPhee’s old boss) hasn’t received an apology. He’s annoyed that it took the involvement of McPhee’s heterosexual sister to get action.