Metro Morning

Group of lawyers step up to defend men charged in Etobicoke park sting

A group of Ontario lawyers is offering free legal support to people charged in a Toronto police crackdown at Marie Curtis Park in Etobicoke.

‘The police reaction was out of proportion to the complaints,’ says lawyer

Marcus McCann is in a group of lawyers who say they will offer pro-bono legal support to men charged for their activities at Marie Curtis Park.

A group of Ontario lawyers is offering free legal support to people charged in a Toronto police crackdown at Marie Curtis Park in Etobicoke.

Police revealed on Friday that they had laid 89 charges against 72 people in an operation known as Project Marie. The bulk of the charges were for indecent exposure and engaging in sexual activity, and 95 per cent of those charged are men.

On Metro Morning, Toronto police spokesperson Meaghan Gray said that police had received "quite a number of community complaints about people engaging in sexual acts" at all times of day, leading to the two-month operation.  

But lawyer Marcus McCann said he's not satisfied with the police explanation for why they launched Project Marie, which included officers in plain clothes patrolling the park.

"The Toronto police reaction was out of proportion to the complaints. Especially the use of an undercover sting, which is expensive and time consuming," he said on Metro Morning.

McCann is part of a group of about 10 lawyers offering pro-bono legal support to those charged in the operation.

Marie Curtis Park is in South Etobicoke off Lakeshore Road. Police say the surrounding community wants it to be a family-friendly place again. (CBC)

Police went off script in Project Marie, says lawyer

McCann argues that the police already had a good template for dealing with what he calls a "conflict of use" issue, pointing to the way they handled people drinking alcohol in Trinity Bellwoods Park.

"City council and the police engaged in public education about shared space. It was a kind of a harm reduction technique," he said. "It's curious to me that when it comes to gay men meeting in the park, we have an undercover sting operation and a very vicious crackdown."

Last week, Gray had said that the park was being restored to a family-friendly place, where adults and children could enjoy the outdoors without fear of witnessing sexual acts.

It's curious to me that when it comes to gay men meeting in the park, we have an undercover sting operation and a very vicious crackdown.- Marcus McCann

McCann said he's troubled by the police raising protecting children as an issue.

"These charges are about consenting adults, not children," he said.

"Most of the people who were charged were charged with relatively minor bylaws or with trespassing."

McCann said he's been in touch with a number of men who have been charged or ticketed in the operation, and encourages anyone else who has yet to come forward to reach out to him.

Police say that the operation was not organized to target gay men specifically. "Whether it's males or females being engaged in this activity, it's not acceptable," said Const. Kevin Ward last week. 

A community event will be held on Nov. 19 from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. to "bring the park back to the community" with refreshments and activities for children, said Gray.

With files from Metro Morning

now