Protest against police undercover sex sting planned for Etobicoke park

Councillor Mark Grimes meeting with Toronto Police officers in October to discuss safety issues at Marie Curtis Park.

An event organized on Facebook called “Queers Crash the Beat” is meant to protest Project Marie, an undercover police operation that led to charges against mostly men allegedly soliciting for sex in public.

It’s planned for the same time and location as the Toronto police’s Walk the Beat event at Marie Curtis Park.

The police event is aimed at bringing officers together with members of the community to physically walk the park to identify problems in the area.

In this case it’s public sexual activity that is at issue after numerous complaints from residents in the area led to an undercover sting operation where plainclothes officers frequented the park to see if they would be solicited for sex.

Earlier this month police charged at least 72 people with 89 offences ranging from trespassing to engaging in a sexual act in public.

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Saturday’s Queers Crash the Beat protest is expected to begin at 4:30 p.m.

“They are just rounding up the most vulnerable members of our community. The people who try to meet others in parks at night, in secluded areas aren’t people who have access to the gains we have made as a queer community,” organizer and human right lawyer Lisa Amin said. “They’re not going to Church Street, they’re closeted, they often live in poverty.”

“Many of them don’t have access to computers or enough data to go surfing online and do the other things that people who think there is an acceptable way to go ‘cruising’ expect everyone to do.”

READ MORE: Lawyers offering free services to those caught up in Toronto police sex sting

Randall Garrison, an NDP member of Parliament and the LGBTQ Issues Critic for his party, condemned the charges and likened the undercover police sting to the Toronto bathhouse raids of 1981.

“It’s not 1981 anymore, but the fact that these types of targeted operations are still being used in Canada’s largest city only underscores the fact that so much more needs to be done to ensure all members of the LGBTQ community feel safe,” he wrote earlier this week in a statement.

READ MORE: Toronto police to issue ‘long overdue’ apology for controversial 1981 bathhouse raids

Toronto Police say Project Marie started in September and lasted about eight weeks. The first phase was a public information campaign followed by the undercover sting operation, and finally Saturday’s Walk the Beat event.

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Meaghan Gray, spokesperson for Toronto Police, said Project Marie was not about targeting the LGBTQ community.

“The bylaw says you cannot engage in sex in the park. Whether that was two men, or a man and a woman, that does not matter,” she said.

She added that the police officers did not know the sexual orientation of those charged, nor did they care.

“It’s disturbing. I don’t know that there’s a need for it (public sexual acts),” said Courtney, a local resident who regular visits the park to walk her dogs.

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