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Why some LGBT activists want more from Toronto police

'If they did a bad thing then why aren’t the perpetrators called to account?'

Mayor John Tory (left) stands with Reverend Brent Hawkes during Toronto Police's Pride reception on June 22, 2016. Credit: Nick Lachance/Daily Xtra

Two longtime gay rights activists say the Toronto Police Service’s apology for its role in the 1981 bathhouse raids is too little, too late.

On June 22, 2016, police chief Mark Saunders offered a formal apology for the Toronto bathhouse raids as part of the TPS’s annual Pride reception. But Gary Kinsman, a longtime LGBT activist, doubts the apology was even sincere.

“There’s no commitment by the police to not implement the laws that continue be in the Criminal Code which criminalize consensual sex between gay men,” he says.

He also notes TPS’s language during the apology: that it “regrets” its actions in 1981.

“It’s great to have an apology, but where is the accountability to ensure that the same thing missing now that was missing 35 years ago that allowed these things to have without any kind of check,” says Ken Popert, executive director for Pink Triangle Press (which owns Daily Xtra.)

“There’s no oversight of the police force in the city so there’s nothing to say this couldn’t happen again tomorrow. Every police officer in Ontario is an independent agent of the crown and can do what they want without external oversight or accountability.”

In particular, Popert thinks that surviving members of the TPS who were directly involved in the 1981 raids should be identified and held to account for the actions.

“I’ll bet some of the individuals who caused those events to happen are still around somewhere lurking in their comfortable chairs with their index pensions and they should be dragged out into the spotlight,” Popert says. “If they did a bad thing then why aren’t the perpetrators called to account?”

Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash tells Daily Xtra that there is no ambiguity in TPS’s apology.

“Our apology was very clear, it was unequivocal, and it showed an understanding of the impact of those raids and to suggest that after saying we understood profoundly the impact that we would go back to behaving in the same way frankly makes no sense,” Pugash says. He also notes that the TPS’s initiatives aimed at trans inclusivity, including gender-neutral washrooms in their headquarters and a commitment to create the same in new facilities, as well as a police service guide, shows dedication to the trans community.

Kinsman, who was a member of the Right to Privacy Committee which was formed in response to the bathhouse raids, says the apology undermines the long-standing solidarity between the LGBT community and other marginalized groups.

“For the LGBT community to say ‘we are now fine with the police’ and ‘we accept their apology’ and ‘police are doing good for us’ breaks that solidarity of people who are under attack by police,” he says. “We understood that in 1981 that there was a real need for the gay community, the black community and the South Asian community, who were all under attack by police, to come together in solidarity. Why is this solidarity not there in 2016? It’s very disturbing.”

Kinsman also says that Brent Hawkes, the senior pastor of the queer-friendly Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto who spoke at the apology event, is being used by the police to isolate groups such as Black Lives Matter.

“Black Lives Matter is organizing against the police [and] many trans and queer voices are involved,” he says. “It’s a rupture of a solidarity for the police not to support Black Lives Matter. Police are continuing to refuse to accept the demands of Black Lives Matter. They understand that the police are trying to use some people in the LGBT community, this Pride event in particular, to rupture the solidarity that should exist and needs to exists between queer and trans communities and the black community who are organizing around police murder.”

Hawkes responded to Daily Xtra via email, writing that he’s disappointed that Kinsman thinks so little of him.

“Regarding the bath raid apology, I approached the police with the request for an apology,” he says. “I was very impressed with the openness of the mayor, chair of the police services board and the chief of police to the request. The apology was sincere and meaningful. It seems to me that it’s Gary [Kinsman’s] language that’s trying to create and exploit divisions. The fact that much more work needs to be done should not negate recognizing progress when it happens.”

“I don’t believe there is any merit whatsoever in what he’s saying,” Pugash says of Kinsman’s claims.

Pugash expressed frustration with Black Lives Matter Toronto when the group disrupted a mural unveiling on June 24, 2016. “We had an unveiling of a mural that highlights our commitment to the LGBTQ community in Toronto and Black Lives Matter interrupted the ceremony and wouldn’t let it continue,” Pugash says. “They disrupted, obstructed and would not let the event continue and this was an event that was clearly designed to enhance the relationship between the Toronto Police Service and the LGBT community.”

Daily Xtra was unable to reach a member of Black Lives Matter Toronto by posting time.