Letter re: Independent External Review into Systemic Concerns Related to Missing Persons Investigations

The following letter was submitted to members of the Toronto Police Services Board on March 21, 2018.

Dear Members of the Toronto Police Services Board,

Recent investigations into the alleged murder of LGBTQ2S community members, particularly those of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent, and missing persons cases have raised significant concerns. Comments that community members failed to provide police with essential information have raised tensions further. Many now believe that there are different standards of investigation for LGBTQ2S missing persons cases and this has eroded public trust in the Toronto Police Service and this is not without context.

There are longstanding and legitimate concerns from many impacted groups, including Black, Indigenous, trans, racialized, undocumented, and sex-worker communities. In 1981, 289 men were assaulted and arrested in the Toronto Police-led bathhouse raids for the "crime" of engaging in consensual sexual activity. The careers, families and lives of gay men were destroyed because of police discrimination and violence against a minority group. In 2000, the Toronto Police raided Pussy Palace, a women's bathhouse and again reminded us that this was a long-term struggle.

Police officers, many of them men, abused their authority when they barged into this women and trans women's only space where individuals were in various states of undress. The police claimed to be there to enforce and investigate a liquor license concern. In 2016, undercover officers laid 89 charges against men in a sting operation at Marie Curtis Park, even as the Toronto Police struggled to respond to the increase in opiate drug trafficking, a rise in shootings, and a spate of deadly pedestrian collisions. Again the "crime" was men having consensual sex with men.

These marks on our community and police force have not been forgotten. The Toronto Police – and not a single officer or the Police Chief of the day – has ever been held accountable for the 1981 and 2000 bathhouse raids. Even when recognizing these past harms, police leadership has never gone as far as issuing a full and explicit apology.

Having met with numerous LGBTQ2S agency leaders and residents in the Church-Wellesley Village area, I have heard clearly that accountability and transparency are needed now more than ever. I have ongoing discussions with the Mayor and LGBTQ2S community leaders, including The Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP) on how trust can be rebuilt. These discussions have been productive and I believe that there is a way forward.

First, I fully support the community's request and Mayor Tory's motion for an immediate independent external review of the practices and actions in these missing persons cases to determine if there was biased conduct of any kind. Second, it is important that principles of transparency and inclusion are communicated regularly and demonstrated throughout the review process to show accountability. Finally, members of impacted communities should be involved in drafting the final terms of reference and their lived experiences should inform the scope of work.

Please consider these comments when you vote on the Mayor's motion this week. I appreciate the hard work and time that many officers and investigators continue to invest in these cases. We must collectively ensure that service standards are consistently delivered to every Toronto resident, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender, or any other Charter-protected group, across the organization, leadership, and Toronto Police procedures to effectively rebuild trust.

Respectfully submitted,

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam
Ward 27 Toronto Centre-Rosedale

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