Homophobia motivated 'Project Marie' park sting, NDP critic says

The NDP critic for LGTBQ issues Randall Garrison said he thinks a recent Toronto police operation carried out at Marie Curtis Park in Etobicoke was “motivated by homophobia, not public safety.”

Police say MP Randall Garrison 'mischaracterized' the operation and that gay men were not targeted

Randall Garrison, an openly gay man and the federal NDP critic for LGTBQ issues, said that a recent police crackdown at an Etobicoke park is "very unfortunate." (CBC)

A recent Toronto police operation carried out at Marie Curtis Park in Etobicoke was "motivated by homophobia, not public safety," the federal NDP critic for LGBTQ issues says.

"What [the police] pick to work on are things they think are a priority. Obviously making this a priority is an example of the homophobia that still exists in our society," Randall Garrison said. 

Last week, police revealed that they had received numerous community complaints about people engaging in sexual acts in the park, leading to a two-month operation that culminated in 89 charges being laid against 72 people. The operation was called Project Marie. 

"The bulk of the charges were for indecent exposure and engaging in sexual activity," said Toronto police spokesperson Meaghan Gray. Ninety-five per cent of those charged were men.

Police say operation not targeted at gay men

Gray responded to Garrison's comments by saying that he had "mischaracterized" what happened in the operation. 

"We were not willing to dismiss the complaints from families who told us they can no longer use parts of Marie Curtis Park," she wrote in an e-mail to CBC Toronto. 

"The existing Toronto by-law states that you cannot have sex in a park. The by-law does not address sexual orientation and neither do we," she said. 

But Garrison, who represents the British Columbia riding of Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, argued that it's the way these particular complaints were handled that indicates prejudice.

"Targeting people for arrests is not the best solution, and it's not the solution they use for most situations in which people complain," he said.

"My concern is that this contradicts the progress we're trying to make at the national level, with things like repealing section 159."

Section 159 of the Criminal Code makes it illegal to have anal sex under the age of 18. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould introduced legislation Tuesday to repeal it, calling the law "discriminatory."

Garrison added that the Toronto police have had a "very good" record of working with the LGTBQ community in the past, but that this "contradicts all of the progress they've made."