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The 519: Post-G20 standoff should never have happened

The 519: Post-G20 standoff should never have happened

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Executive director concedes police culpability in Pride reception debacle
The executive director of the 519 Church Street Community Centre admits that police should never have been allowed to host a June meeting that quickly escalated into a confrontation after queer and trans people were barricaded from entering.

That confrontation was on the agenda at a public relations consultation at The 519 Monday night, and the emotional discussion included personal stories of those affected by police violence during the G20 summit.

Maura Lawless, executive director of The 519, listened as the small group of about 13 people shared their opinions and suggested ways the centre could mend its fractured relationship with the community.

“What happened here at the Pride reception was not OK,” Lawless said. “We expressed our concerns. It didn’t need to be managed the way it was. The way to effect change is through dialogue.

“In retrospect, the event should never have gone ahead and that’s clear. We were trying to find a balance.”

The June 30 Pride Week reception, hosted by police chief Bill Blair at The 519, turned ugly when police kept queer and trans people out of the centre for more than an hour as a growing crowd on the sidewalk demanded answers about police conduct during the G20.

The protesters accused police of segregating gay, lesbian and trans people in the Eastern Ave detention centre, sexually assaulting lesbian and trans women and spitting homophobic slurs at those held against their will.

Activist David Demchuk said police violated the safety of The 519 space that day. “There’s lots of other spaces in this city police can use,” he said. “Has there been an apology? Any acknowledgement? People, quite frankly, are traumatized by police.”

Anna Willats, with the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, suggested The 519 hold a public meeting for those who experienced violence firsthand during the G20.

“A lot of what we are talking about here is bigger than the G20 event,” she said.

During the summit, many of the openly gay detainees reported having been transferred to a “segregated zone.” In cages built for one, couples of men and women were held, some without access to food and water, and stripped of their rights.

“It’s appropriate for the community to have the chance to speak about the queer and trans people detained and demand an apology,” Willats said. “That’s what protesters were saying at The 519 that day.”

Tears welled up in Michelle Le-Clair’s eyes as she recalled the violence during the G20.

“Just thinking about it brings back tears,” she said. “It was so terrible. To see trans women and trans men put into detention cells. It was so degrading.”

When Blair arrived at The 519 on June 30, he made a now-infamous gesture that spoke louder than words for many in the room. As he made his way through the throngs of people, he turned to the crowd, smiled and tipped his hat at the protesters as they repeatedly yelled, “Shame!”

“I want to see Blair apologize for tipping his hat to the crowd,” Le-Clair said. “That was unprofessional and disrespectful.”

Willats suggested The 519 hold a public meeting for those who experienced violence at the hands of police during the G20.

But dialogue is not enough, she said. Police need to take accountability for their actions.

“Dialogue only gives the sheen of doing something when nothing is actually being done,” she said.

Willats put much of the onus on The 519 itself, saying the community centre had the power to deny Blair access for the reception.

“How hard would it have been to say to Blair, ‘Sorry, police can’t have the meeting here?’” she asked. “The 519 as an organization has some clout in this community.

“The 519 takes a position when it hosts police events.”

It should be noted, comments made by Lawless at the public consultation were in contrast to the tone of the statement released by The 519 a day after the tense standoff. The release accused protesters of disturbing the centre yet absolved the police of any responsibility.

“If protesters plan to significantly disrupt a meeting or an event, they are expected to protest on the sidewalk in front of the building to ensure that The 519 is able to provide a community centre that is safe and respects the diversity of opinion and expression in our communities,” it read.

The release made no reference to police blocking the doors or Chief Bill Blair’s antagonism of the protesters.

Also at the consultation was Christopher Hudspeth, Church-Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area (CWVBIA) police liaison, who said the experience was frightening for him as well.

“I saw two hands try to grab an officer’s gun,” he said. “It was disturbing enough for me and gave me nightmares for weeks.”

During the confrontation at the police reception, Hudspeth was on the front lines, trying to temper the rising tension by taking on the role of security, said Casey Oraa, an activist with Queer Ontario.

At the end of the meeting, Lawless said The 519 will consider all the suggestions and recommendations and follow up with the public in about a month.

“As an organization, I’ll be frank: we’re not going to shut the door and never speak to police again,” she said.

Former Ward 27 candidate Susan Gapka said police left an indelible scar on the gay community that day.

“I felt under surveillance,” she said. “Even when I just went to the store to buy cat food. It took me a couple of weeks after the G20 before I was no longer scared when a police car drove by.

Dianne LaLonde said police simply don’t have enough training when it comes to the gay and trans community.

“My rights were infringed upon. It was horrendous,” she said. “I see no transparency from police. People were forcibly confined with handcuffs.”

Demchuk said Blair is no friend to the gay community. It was under his leadership that queer people were singled out, attacked, assaulted, made to feel unsafe in custody, and taken to Scarborough and told to walk home, he said

“We are still a community that is policed. We still feel that. This is not something overcome by dialogue. It is overcome by change,” he said. “We saw in one weekend how easily rights can be rolled back.

“People weren’t angry for no reason. There were very real reasons for people to be here that day.”




Comments

Video statement
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ntcr5E_LE7M
Xtra reports on a shocking new development!
Why does every little thing become such a problem at the 519? And with people who identify as queer, lesbian and trans? These people are always looking for an issue, a drama, an outrage. And let's not forget Xtra's mock outrage and sensationalist, sophomoric reporting of every little incident. None of these people speak for me. We need a gay separatist movement.
Lets settle this
Allegations have been made against the police which I am not alone in having trouble believing. The thing is, they might even be true. I wasn't in detention, so I don't know. This is why we need an inquiry, because until some of this stuff is settled, it just swirls about creating bad blood and appearing to legitimize some of these activists who wouldn't know what to do with themselves if they couldn't hate the police and find systemic racism and homophobia everywhere. Let's have an inquiry, give them their 15 minutes, and be done with it.
519 should have let LGBT comm into reception
I was there at the Police reception (a yearly event held usually in the village at a bar) as I have been for every year since the Chief's Gay Pride party for the LGBT community was started ten years ago. The mistake made by the 519 staff was not allowing the gay public (both protestors & attendees of the party) into the reception after a crowd appeared protesting disquieting police actions over the previous weekend at the G20. When I arrived at the reception there was no problem getting in & chatting with guests which included Doug Elliot (who brought a delegation of cops from Bosnia), Chris Huspeth, Kyle Rae, Pam Maconnell and many other communty leaders. But Blair was very late due to a re-patriation ceremony. And as the anti-police demo crowd got bigger outside, decisions were made inside by the 519 not to let protestors inside the reception. I then left the reception (Blair had still not arrived ) and joined the protestors outside as that was more interesting than a polite cocktail party of gay notables and police brass. And after the excesses of the police over the weekend, my heart was with a show of anger to police. But I did not join in some of the chants which said Blair was homophobic (he isn't) or that he must resign (he is the best Chief in my lifetime vis a vis the gay community and I have known him for over 18 years as a journalist and as a LGBTcomm /police liaison committee member.) I would also have liked to ask him how the police could have fouled up so many times over the G20 weekend, but Blair was hustled out of the 519 lobby too quickly for me to ask any hard questions. Blair should have changed the location (it was held 2 years ago successfully at cop HQ), but given the circumstances the 519 should have let everyone in who wanted to come in. The LGBT demonstrators would then have rightly been at the reception itself which cops could then have easily handled.
Get a grip
Actually no, what? Scrutinized and maligned are too different thing. People who presume speak for others should also to be scrutinized. People who make allegations about things that happened at G20 should also to be scrutinized. I have talked to people who were arrestees who disputed the versions of event put forward by three or four assholes. And here that fucking Rick from London telling us how to run our city, once again. Is that you, Telfer who shows up on every page and every Twitter feed mocking people's english? Go fuck yourself. ANd work on your own fucking police force asshol.e
Actually, no...
...the top boss is supposed to be scrutinized. Heavily. As in any institution within our society that affects democratic rights.
These activists are violating me.
I feel unsafe when David Demchuk and Anna Willats incite anti-police sentiment in my city. These activists can go fuck themselves. Bill Blair is an honourable man and a great public servant. Having said that, there should be an inquiry. We need to settle these wounds, but maligning Blair is not the answer.
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