Opinion: The gay community has long been over-policed and under-protected. The Bruce McArthur case is the final straw

April 16, 2018

From a CBC News opinion piece: There is a long history of over-policing and under-protecting Toronto's LGBTQ2 community. That's what's at the heart of the request that Toronto Police withdraw their application to participate in the upcoming Pride Parade. 

The community's frustration over the way that police have handled the investigation into alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur might have been the final straw, so to speak, but it's exacerbated by a decades-long struggle for fair treatment from police.

1970s Cold cases

Back in November1978, William Duncan Robinson was found stabbed to death in his apartment. He was the 14th gay man murdered in Toronto since 1975. Including Robinson, sevenof these cases remain unsolved.

At the time of the investigations, potential witnesses were reluctant to speak to policebecause they were concerned about how they might be treated. They were also worried if they came forward with information, they themselves might be charged with some sort of offence, or that they might be publicly outed. And members of the community had good reason worry about that.

On December 9, 1978, less than two weeks after Robinson was found dead, police raided Toronto's Barracks bathhouse. Twenty-eight men were chargedunder the bawdy house law for acts of indecency. The membership list for the Barracks, with over 800 names, was also seized. In the weeks following the raid, a police staff sergeant notified the employers of six men charged.

Community activists rallied around the men and formed a new organization called the Right to Privacy Committee (RTPC). This group made various attempts to call out and correct police injustice.

They demanded action in response to police's apparent indifference to routine violence toward the community on Halloween. Throughout the 1970s, the annual Halloween drag paradeoutside the St. Charles Tavern on Yonge Streetincreasingly turned violent, with homophobic crowds gathering to hurl eggs and insults. The police were often seen turning their backs to the mob, refusing to protect the people going into the bar.

Police carding was another major issue raised during this time. In April 1979, the RTPC joined forces with blackcommunity groups and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association to stand against police identification practices. As part of a briefing notepresentedto the Metropolitan Toronto Board of Commissioners of Police, the RTPC asked, "Are the people of Toronto having their tax dollars spent on collecting and disseminating lists of gay people?"

Read more: Opinion: The gay community has long been over-policed and under-protected. The Bruce McArthur case is the final straw