6 min

Under surveillance

Police spied on homo activists for years

Credit: (TED HEBBES)

At least two gay activists were the target of police surveillance lasting more than a decade, according to an internal police document leaked last month.

George Hislop and Peter Maloney were followed by undercover officers for years. For at least one year, cops even conducted surveillance on their own boss, the gay-friendly chair of the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) Susan Eng, because of her friendship with Maloney.

“I am disgusted by the surveillance conducted on George and Peter, especially as it was of their political activities and particularly their criticism of the police,” says Douglas Elliott, longtime lawyer to Hislop, who died in 2005. “I thought that kind of behaviour had gone out with McCarthy. It was gross abuse of police power and resources for base political purposes, the kind of conduct that cannot be tolerated in any democracy.”

Elliott is calling on Toronto police chief Bill Blair to issue an apology to Toronto homos in the wake of these revelations.

“I hope that the current chief looks into it and has the good grace to assure us that nothing of the sort will happen again and to apologize to our community for this misconduct,” says Elliott.

The story of the surveillance operation first surfaced as part of a statement of claim in a December 2006 lawsuit filed by Const Robert Correa, a 22-year veteran of Toronto’s drug squad. While the claim includes many unsubstantiated allegations against former Toronto police chief and now OPP commissioner Julian Fantino, Correa’s central allegation is that Fantino, then superintendent in charge of Detective Services was “involved in wiretapping the chair of the Toronto Police Services Board.”

Last month Correa’s claims regarding police surveillance against Eng were backed up by a leaked internal police document. According to sections published in The Globe And Mail, the document confirms that there was a surveillance operation against Maloney and Hislop beginning in 1980, and against Eng between 1991 and 1992.

Fantino ran roughshod over the queer community in London during his infamous kiddie-porn-ring-that-wasn’t crusade in the early 1990s, and, as a senior officer under Toronto’s then-chief Bill McCormack, Fantino would have been in a position to see some of the resulting intelligence memos. But the issue is not so much Fantino’s alleged part in the wiretapping, rather that the police were conducting the surveillance at all.

Even Laura Rowe, another then-member of the TPSB and its first openly gay member of the board, was the target of police surveillance. According to Maloney, the title of the leaked intelligence memo was “The Relationship Between Susan Eng, Peter Maloney And Laura Rowe.”

The memo also reveals that police followed Maloney and Hislop to a queer-rights conference in Calgary in 1980 where, according to the memo, Hislop talked about trying to find out more about the police budget, including how much money was spent on gay undercover operations.

Although it isn’t known who ordered the surveillance, the memo indicates that from May 1991 until February 1992 it was carried out by Det Garry Carter, an intelligence officer who resigned from the force in 1997 after being charged with stealing more than $47,000 from another undercover operation he was involved in; he was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to a year’s house arrest.

The details of Carter’s surveillance were revealed on May 16 after the 17-page intelligence memo was leaked to CBC reporter David Seglins. The thrust of the leaked memo is that Eng was meeting regularly with Maloney, whom Carter describes as a “shady character” who “was exercising undue influence” over the new chair.

Eng says Maloney is an old friend, and that she valued his advice on how to handle police issues.

“I was seeking advice of a friend who knew the [justice] system,” says Eng. According to Eng the pair discussed “police personalities, the police budget and policies.” Both Maloney and Eng maintain that they never discussed confidential police matters.

Attitudes toward queers in police circles were known to have been less than positive in the early days of the gay rights movement. In the late ’60s when Hislop ran into a senior police officer at a social occasion he asked if there might be room for a regular liaison between the cops and the gay community, like today’s police liaison officer. His reply still shocked Hislop when he related the tale in 2002.

“Gays are incipient criminals,” was the officer’s reply. “Why would we want to liaise with criminals?”

Similarly, longtime city councillor Kyle Rae recalls an incident in 1982 in which then chief of police intelligence Insp Don Banks told a public function that, “Wherever you have gays, you have crime.” Clearly for at least some senior officers in Toronto’s police force being gay was synonymous with being a criminal long after the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1969.

Undercover cops were known to have been infiltrating gay activist circles during those tumultuous times. Two undercover cops even helped to carry the main protest banner during one of the many protests following the 1981 raids.

According to the leaked memo, Maloney was the primary target of Carter’s undercover operation. In addition to his Club Baths connection, Maloney had been a high-profile gay activist in the ’70s and was assistant campaign manager of Hislop’s run for Toronto city council in 1980. He publicly challenged police harassment and government discrimination against queers on multiple occasions. He was a prominent criminal lawyer who ran for public office twice, first as a Liberal candidate in the 1971 provincial election and then to be Ward 6 city councillor in 1985.

After the notorious bathhouse raids in 1981, in which hundreds of cops in Toronto raided four of the city’s bathhouses and arrested 286 men as “found-ins.” That April Maloney and Hislop were charged that in connection to the raids with conspiracy to obtain the proceeds of crime as well as other charges related to keeping a common bawdy house.

The charges against Hislop and Maloney were ultimately withdrawn, but that didn’t clear them from police intelligence records.

Today Maloney, who resigned from the Ontario bar association after an investigation by the Law Society Of Upper Canada in 2002 into improper handling of mortgages, is working as a professor of law at Jilin University-Lambton College in Changchun, China.

When reached by Xtra for comment, Maloney said that he had been “aware of the wiretap for many years.” He says he noticed that his name was listed for wiretapping in a police authorization in 1992. At the time, Maloney had been representing a group of Colombians charged with smuggling cocaine into Canada. Maloney says that the wiretap authorization “included not only my name but also my roommate’s — he was also my secretary at the time — as well as the names of a couple of gay friends and a couple of other friends.

“I went directly to police headquarters, to Susan’s office, and told her about it and showed her a copy of the authorization,” says Maloney. “I advised her that, despite our years of friendship, we must cease contact until I received notification of the termination of the wiretap authorization. After a brief discussion she agreed.”

When reached for comment, Eng confirmed Maloney’s account and says that they stopped meeting until the following year when they were officially notified that the wiretap authorization had been terminated.

Eng says she is “outraged” that the police were running an operation against her.

“Why should any civilian, much less the civilian overseer of the police board, be subjected to improper wiretaps and surveillance?” asks Eng. “It’s utterly insane.”

On May 16 Eng wrote a formal letter to the current TPSB asking it to investigate “illegal and improper surveillance of any board member” and to “investigate the circulation of a purported confidential intelligence report.”

When the TPSB met on May 17 current chair Alok Mukherjee said that he had not seen the leaked memo. Despite a presentation from Avvy Go, director of the Metro Toronto Chinese And Southeast Asian Legal Clinic (MTCSALC) citing need for an independent investigation into the situation, the board decided instead to ask Blair to investigate the affair.

At a press conference on May 23 a group of community groups, including MTCSALC, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and the Coalition For Lesbian And Gay Rights In Ontario (CLGRO), held a joint press conference calling for a “broader, third-party” investigation.

“Frankly, I find the board members’ reluctance to take action quite astonishing given it is in their in own best interest to make sure nothing like this is happening or will ever happen again,” said Go at the press conference.

“The highest levels of government should be involved in sorting this out, not the police chief,” said CCLA’s Alan Borovoy.

“[Blair’s] role is to protect the police department…. There is a need to rescue him from himself and reduce the conflict of interests by having an independent Ontario government-appointed body to investigate this.”

The TPSB had no official reaction to the press conference; Blair is continuing with his own internal investigation. He is expected to report his findings to the TPSB in the months to come.