Durham police have charged 25 gay men with trespassing in a conservation area in Whitby, Ontario, after complaints from locals of “nudity” and “lewd acts.”
Constable Gord Fleming, media relations for Durham Regional Police, says the complaints were of men “exposing themselves or participating in sexual acts.”
Fleming did not know when exactly the arrests took place, except that the charges span four days during the week of August 12 to 18. “It’s amazing how many people can gather quickly.”
The names of the men are not being released. Fleming also did not know their ages.
“There was a complaint of people engaging in sexual activity. As a result, officers went down there to investigate. They try to be proactive, so they laid charges for trespassing instead.”
“If they were caught in a lewd act [the charges] would be different.”
The Lynde Shores Conservation Area, a marsh in south Whitby, is a popular cruising area for gay men, he says. The area is listed on a few gay cruising websites. On Squirt.org, it’s listed as a cruising place since 2000.
Squirt.org users say the paths in the Lynde Shores Conservation Area are a good place to “meet older factory and office workers on breaks and old horny men.”
In the past, Durham police have conducted sting operations on the men. “We’ve certainly had complaints there in the past. Not just gay men, couples, and everything else down there, [doing] different activity,” Fleming says. “In this case it was more to the homosexual community, but in the past there have been all different complaints. Officers tried to be proactive, rather than waiting for anything else to happen, we charged them under the trespass to property act.”
“It’s a sensitive area down there for habitat,” he adds.
In Sept 2011, Durham police arrested seven men, ages 49 to 71, over the course of a week at the Lynde Shores Conservation Area. Police say plainclothes officers saw men exposing themselves having sexual relations with each other.
Of the seven arrested, one man 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. Those men were found in closed-off, environmentally sensitive parts of the conservation area but did not commit any “indecent acts,” police said.
At the time, queer activists told Xtra that the police sting investigation was simply a witch-hunt against gay men.
No one at the Lynde Shores Conservation Area returned calls from Xtra to comment on the latest arrests.
Fleming did not know who made the original complaint. “I assume it was someone in the community . . . We have a crew unit that responds to community complaints, and that’s the unit that was used.”
The names are not being released because the charges are minor. “It’s normal for police to not release the names of people charged with trespassing . . . Just like if we catch people for speeding, we don’t release those names either.”
The men were not held in custody. “They were given a fine and sent on their way.” He did not know the amount of the fine.
The area is private property, Fleming says, looked after by Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority (CLOCA), who also did not respond to Xtra’s requests for comment. “It’s their property. There’s a bird sanctuary down there. Even if [the men] were just down there to look at the birds, it is private property, so they were charged.”
“Were there complaints that lewd acts were taking place? Yes. Were the charges a result of that? Absolutely not.”
Gary Kinsman, a sociology professor at Laurentian University, questions whether police are now using trespassing charges as a way of policing consensual sex acts between men in state-defined public places.
Kinsman says police often use such complaints or crimes to clamp down on gay sex and nudity in publicly owned areas.
“This is an interesting use of trespassing charges to address sex-related questions,” he writes in an email. Kinsman was traveling and unavailable for an interview. “In the past they might have used indecent act charges. They do not have to actually demonstrate sexual acts to get the trespassing charge to stick and it is also not a very severe charge.”