Toronto
6 min

Working out the kinks

SHOULD WE EXECUTE THEM, SIR? Julian Fantino says posterers are criminals. Credit: Xtra Files

A commitment has been made to take the process of creating a police liaison committee to a public forum.



“It will be totally open meeting,” says Howard Shulman, of the Victim Assistance Program at the 519 Church Street Community Centre.



Shulman says no date has been set yet.



“We want it open to the public to voice their issues. That needs to

happen soon,” says Rui Pires, a member of Arco-Iris, a support group for gays and lesbians of Portuguese descent, He also sits on Hamilton’s police liaison committee.



Nearly 40 people representing organizations and service agencies packed the mid-March meeting – the second in the series – to try and advance the process of creating a police liaison committee, started by The 519 in the wake of the appointment of Julian

Fantino as Toronto’s new police chief.



Pires says the meeting was “not hostile but there were lots of different opinions.”



Certainly, the meeting could have been more raucous considering that the June 13 Committee announced at the March 8 gathering that it was withdrawing from what it considers a flawed process.



June 13 was established following the raids and arrests last summer at The Bijou, a downtown sex club.



The committee criticized the process initiated by The 519 for not being completely open to the public from the outset (it’s instead only open to groups and agencies). Members of June 13 also questioned whether Fantino would sincerely want to work with Toronto’s gay and lesbian communities.



“There were people who understood the June 13’s position. There was no acrimony,” Shulman says.



Picking up on the cue from June 13, the agenda included asking people what their fears are about the process, says Shulman.



What come out is that the idea of working with police “is freaking

people out a bit. People want to proceed cautiously,” says Pires.



Regardless of the large turnout, Shulman says there are no guarantees a process will come out of this. “We’re still looking at the possibility. It’s not being decided one way or another.”



Besides the commitment to hold a public meeting, a work group will research existing police liaison committees in Hamilton and Ottawa and report back in eight weeks.



Shulman says people want to know a lot more about how these bodies work and what their flaws are before committing to create one here in Toronto.



“It was decided that more research needs to be done on what the problems are that they [liaison committees] have,” Shulman says.



HOMOS ARE

HOT TARGETS

Reports of hate crimes in Toronto last year shot up by a shocking 245 percent.



And activists are struggling to find an explanation.



Bob Gallagher says that while the economy is booming, things are not always better for individuals, and hard times are often fertile ground for scapegoating.



“When we say it’s a good economic time, that doesn’t translate into it being a good economic time for the individual in Canada and in Toronto,” says gay activist Gallagher, executive assistant to City Councillor Olivia Chow (who sits on the Toronto Police Services Board).



“And that’s what matters in terms of hate crimes. How the

average and even lower than average person is doing.”



The recently released report by the Toronto Police Service Hate Crime Unit reveals shocking numbers. In 1996 there were 18 hate crimes reported based on sexual orientation. In 1999 that number jumped to 44, with incidents ranging from mischief to assault. In that same time period, the total number of hate crimes in Toronto jumped by 167 percent.



Gallagher sees another pattern in these hate crime numbers. He notes that the largest jumps occurred in 1995 and then again in 1998 and 1999.



“In terms of gay rights issues 1994 was probably the most dramatic year we’d had for about 10 years. There had been AIDS issues but in terms of gay rights types of issues, ’94 was probably our most visible, high profile year.”



The (failed) spousal rights Bill 167 was introduced in the provincial legislature that year; it created a debate which galvanized both education and hatred across the province.



“And then we see the big jump of 100 percent [from 11 to

22] the next year. If I think about the last couple of years it’s when

we’ve had a series of different issues around relationship recognition and gay issues have come back to the fore. So I can’t help but think that part of the statistics we’re seeing are a reaction to our community being more visible and being more proactive in terms of winning our own rights.”



Says Gallagher: “I think once people remember we’re here and start getting annoyed at it and they feel threatened by us moving into the mainstream of being accepted that they tend to react sometimes violently.”



Gallagher says money is also an issue. Much of the funding the

province provided for counselling and drop-in centres is gone; education responsibilities have fallen onto communities.



Certainly internal community statistics collected through the 519 Church Street Centre have always been much higher than the police stats.



“We have been actively working [with the police] case by case for the past four or five years to say, ‘Recognize this, recognize this, recognize this,’ so that’s another difference,” says Victim Assistance Program coordinator Karen Baldwin. “And the other community groups like B’nai Brith and Anti-Racist Action Centre have been doing the same thing.”



Baldwin says that some of the increase in numbers can also be attributed to a change in the definition of hate crimes.



“Prior to, I think it was last year, incidence were only considered hate if they were solely motivated by hate,” explains Baldwin. “And now it’s in whole or part motivated by hate. So that makes a big difference. They’ve expanded their definition of a hate crime.”

– Heather M Ross



A COMPLETELY NEW BUNCH

OF COPPERS TO DEAL WITH

The gay community could soon be patrolled by a completely different platoon – but there still won’t be any easy way for politicians to directly control the cops.



The new policing boundaries don’t match up with the city’s ward boundaries. So there’s no real accountability to elected politicians.



If approved by city council, the line between 51 and 52 divisions will be moved, with the gay ghetto falling under the watchful eye of the police station nicknamed Fort Apache.



Downtown City Councillor Kyle Rae says that despite its reputation, 51 Division has changed for the better. But it’s nowhere near perfect.



“I think that there is a lot of work that needs to be done in 51. And I’m concerned that every time that we have tried to make that clear to the police at the boundary meetings, they’ve ignored it. They have been steadfast in ignoring our concerns.”



Fifty-one division, which has had the Fort Apache label attached to it for more than a decade, watches over what are reputed to be some of the city’s worst streets. With the move of its west border to Yonge street, this station is where officers will come from in the event of bashing on Church St.



They’ll also be keeping an eye on the bathhouses.



Says Rae: “It doesn’t make any sense to me given the kind of failure of policing I can point to on every street corner, with the drug dealing and the other stuff that’s going on. It’s a question of trying to determine where the priorities are. I think that’s what we’ll have to do with the head of 51 Division – clarifying their priorities. And let’s face it, 51 division has a lot of other priorities. Every time that this stuff with Bijou happens I go into the head of 52 and say, ‘What the hell are your officers doing? They’ve got nothing better to do?'”



Rae is also confident that concerns with the police throughout the city will lessen as younger officers enter the force.



“The people who I have dealt with from earlier generation have no idea. It was real education from zero. The people who are [entering the force] now have got brothers and sisters who are openly gay, and had openly gay teachers at University, if they went. They have read about our community in the newspaper. They have seen our movies. The generation previous did not. And so I don’t think we’re starting from zero. We’re lucky.



According to Tom Warner, a spokesperson for the Coalition For Lesbian And Gay Rights In Ontario, the changes won’t be big. While he does think that the officers will at 51 Division will need some education, there is good and bad with every division.



“I think we need to be clear that a lot of issues are not going to be

restricted to particular officers in particular divisions,” says Warner.



“For example, the morality squad doesn’t necessarily work out of a

particular division. Or officers in other units are necessarily based out of a particular division. I think we have to be more concerned about the overall attitude of the police and the individual officers within the police services no matter where they’re based.”



You can give your feedback on the new boundaries at the Police Services Board meeting on Mon, Mar 27, at 1:30pm in the

second floor auditorium at 40 College St. To speak, call Deirdre Williams at (416) 808-8094.

– Heather M Ross