Toronto police should drop Project Marie charges, city and provincial politicians say

An MPP and city councillor called on police to immediately drop the charges laid against 72 people accused of engaging in sexual activity in an Etobicoke park.

Undercover operation at Marie Curtis Park in Etobicoke results in 72 people being charged

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam said the charges stemming from Project Marie should be thrown out. Police, she said, shouldn't have gone undercover to entrap those charged. (CBC)

An MPP and city councillor called on police to immediately drop the charges laid against 72 people accused of engaging in sexual activity in an Etobicoke park.

Toronto police officers filed 89 charges – only one of which is criminal in nature -- against 72 people during Project Marie, a six-week operation that used plainclothes officers to find people soliciting sexual encounters in Marie Curtis Park. Some 95 per cent of those charged are men.

Critics have lashed out at Toronto police, claiming the arrests target the LGBTQ community, something the police force denies.

You can't really blame [the LGBTQ] community for feeling targeted once again.- Toronto Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam

On Friday, MPP Cheri DiNovo wrote an open letter to Ontario's Attorney General Yasir Naqvi asking for the charges to be thrown out.

"Toronto Police had been performing undercover sting operations in Marie Curtis Park trying to lure gay men and trans people to proposition them for sex," DiNovo's letter says.

"An undercover sting operation should be for serious crimes — not for intimidating and harassing gay men and trans people who are meeting each other in public spaces."

DiNovo, the Ontario NDP's critic for LGBTQ issues, also questioned the police's decision to deploy so many resources to an investigation that only resulted in bylaw infractions.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, who represents the ward containing Toronto's gay village, said she's had conversations with police officers who have questioned the tactics employed in the operation.

Wong-Tam said given the police's history with the LGBT community — earlier this year, chief Mark Saunders formally apologized for the 1981 bathhouse raids — using undercover officers to entrap people is especially problematic.

"You can't really blame [the LGBTQ] community for feeling targeted once again," she told CBC Toronto.

Wong-Tam wants police to pursue the only criminal charge to come out of the investigation, but throw out the others. Toronto police haven't responded to Wong-Tam, but her call picked up the support of at least one other city councillor, Mike Layton.

There should also be a conversation in the community, she said, about how to curtail sexual activity in the park in the future.

Police to hold 'walk the beat' event at park

Residents told police there are some parts of the west Etobicoke park they no longer walk through. (CBC)

Toronto police say the bulk of the charges laid were for indecent exposure and engaging in sexual activity. A spokesperson said complaints from residents, who said they could no longer use parts of the park, triggered the investigations.

On Saturday, police in 22 Division are holding a "walk the beat" event where citizens and police will patrol Marie Curtis Park together.

A police flyer said the walk will allow residents to get a "grass roots look at a problems in your area," while allowing the police to gather "invaluable" knowledge from local residents.

Community officers and city officials, the news release said, will be on hand to discuss Project Marie.

There will also be a park clean-up.

With files from Chris Glover