Yesterday, November 19, 2016, the Toronto Police 22 Division threw a party to celebrate Project Marie, their undercover sting operation targeting gay men cruising in Marcie Curtis Park. Queers from all over Toronto and beyond showed up to make it clear that the police cannot and should not be proud of their actions.
For more than four hours, members of the LGBTQ+ community stood at an information table in Marie Curtis park just down the path from the police’s Walk the Beat – Take Back The Park event, where many (many, many) police officers, police rovers, bylaw officers and other people in uniforms milled about with a handful of citizens before going through a “walk the beat” tour of the park.
Throughout the afternoon, we spoke to dozens of neighbours of various opinions. We shared our concerns about why Project Marie is an utter failure of community policing, how serious the effects of the sting will be for the men charged, and how Project Marie perpetuates a long-standing distrust between police and queer communities — particularly racialized and poor LGBTQ+ folks.
We also had the opportunity to ask and listen to the concerns of many neighbours and visitors to the magnificent and spacious Marie Curtis Park. We learned a lot about how residents have shared space with men seeking sex over the years, and how they feel questions about public sex might be resolved going forward. We heard about their worries, and their hopes for the park. And we also learned that residents have many concerns about the park that they feel are pressing besides gay sex — unnecessary parking tickets, dogs off of their leashes, beach closures, and litter chief among them.
As the sun went down, Constable Kevin Ward and other police officers came over to our growing group to field questions, explain why they chose to go undercover, share some data about the operation, and express virtually no regret about their choices with Project Marie.
As the conversation got more heated and more queers arrived in the park, the police-led “Take Back the Park” candlelight march began to gather, with about twenty non-police folks joining their activity. About thirty-five Queers Crash the Beat protestors gathered and expressed solidarity with the men victimized by the police sting — asserting that LGBTQ+ communities have a right to access and enjoy public park spaces, too. We chose to light beautiful, bright-shining QUEERSPARKS sparklers and leave peacefully, visibly, solemnly rather than participate in the police “march.”
Thank you to all of the fabulous queers and others who showed up yesterday. Keep your ears to the streets. This ain’t over.
Queers Crash the Beat