[URBAN NOTE] “Panic in Marie Curtis Park”
NOW Toronto‘s Declan Keogh looks at the ongoing disputes over Marie Curtis Park and the recent arrests there, including a recent protest.
On what felt like the coldest day in months, dozens of locals showed up at Marie Curtis Park in Etobicoke on Saturday, November 19, for the latest Walk The Beat event organized by Toronto police from 22 Division.
Dubbed Take Back The Park, the five-hour event was organized with the help of area residents and described on the website of Mississauga councillor Jim Tovey, whose ward borders the popular green space, as an opportunity for residents “to discuss the issues plaguing Marie Curtis Park.” Namely, the alleged sex crimes going on in the park and the police sting known as Project Marie set up six weeks ago in response.
The affair featured free hot dogs and hot chocolate, a picnic, park cleanup and “fun activities for the kids.” The highlight: a candlelight walk through the areas where police say men have been engaging in public sexual activity.
It was all part of a wider police initiative, according to Tovey, to “foster community support and involvement.” But dozens of members from Toronto’s LGBTQ community and their supporters – including lawyer Marcus McCann, who is offering free legal counsel to anyone charged – turned out as well to confront the police and the community over Project Marie, which McCann described as “a shameful moment in police/LGBTQ relations.”
Police say Project Marie has so far resulted in a total of 89 citations, most of them bylaw infractions, including 71 for indecent exposure and engaging in sexual activity, against 76 men and two women. But so far only one criminal charge has been laid, and this has prompted charges of police harassment – and comparisons to the 1980s bathhouse raids – from Toronto Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and Parkdale MPP Cheri DiNovo, both of whom have called for the dropping of the police investigation.