Tag Archives: Memorial Park

Our History with the Police

This week’s announcement by Calgary Pride, editing the presence of the Calgary Police in the Pride Parade, has stirred deep waters. Calgary’s LGBTQ community has a decidedly conflicted history with the city’s police: ignoring that fact or conflating the past with the present is equally unhelpful. Mayor Nenshi says: “Blaming current people for historical oppression would be like saying: ‘previous mayors of Calgary have refused to proclaim Pride Week, therefore the current mayor of Calgary isn’t invited to the parade.’ I have a challenge with that.”

Yet, as an analogy of the situation, his response is far too superficial.

Redistribution of power is the existential issue of our generation. At every level in society, we see social justice combating social conservatism. There has been a lot of fallout. Although Canada seems to be managing this redistribution slightly better than other places, dealing with atonement, integration and resistance to change has been a weary-making struggle for everyone.

One of the strategies in progressing forward is to know our history and to look at it unflinchingly.

Fact: We were surveilled and incarcerated in large numbers, particularly in the period between World War II and 1969. In 1967, Everett Klippert, a Calgary bus driver received a life sentence just for being gay which triggered a change in the laws around the criminalization of homosexuality in 1969. Calgary leaders, including our politicians, were vehemently opposed to decriminalization. Then police chief Ken McIver described homosexuality as a “horrible, vicious and terrible thing. We do not need this in our country.”

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Police Chief Ken McIver examines police graduates in January 1968: Source Glenbow Archives.

Fact: Calgary Police tracked gay student activists in the 70s, asking the University of Calgary for their records (the University courageously refused), showing up at their apartments and purposefully intimidating them.

Fact: Calgary Police routinely harassed gay men in Central Memorial Park in the 70s and 80s and would sometimes incarcerate them overnight without cause. This was not challenged until 1981 when gay University of Calgary Law Student, Henry Berg, filed a formal complaint against Calgary Police regarding abuse of police power after he spent a night in the drunk tank when he was not inebriated.

Fact: I (Kevin), personally, was stopped by a Calgary Police Officer in the summer of 1996 walking home after work in the late afternoon.  The male officer kept me for 15 minutes, and it became evident during his interrogation that the only reason I had been targeted was for my sexual orientation which he identified by the “funny way I was walking.” Although defiant at the time, I regrettably never pursued a complaint.

Fact: Goliath’s, a gay bathhouse in Calgary was raided for being a common bawdy house in 2002 with both found-ins and operators charged. The Crown eventually stayed the charges citing changed community standards.

Notwithstanding these facts, the Calgary Police have made great strides in transforming their culture concerning sexual and gender diversity – which could not have been easy. The first gay/police liaison committee began in the early 80s and was not a sincere effort but a cynical, placating move. However, over time, the two historically opposing communities built more trust. The police were actively trying to prevent hate crimes against our community throughout the 90s. Now they have diversity officers and actively try to recruit LGBTQ individuals to their ranks. Most recently they courageously opened their archives to the Calgary Gay History Project. It was courageous because a peek in their closet wasn’t pretty.

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A visit to the Calgary Police Archives with the Pride Flag flying at half mast for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shootings in Orlando, Florida.

We in minority communities have some unattractive things in our closets too. But I firmly believe that we need to seek and share empowerment as we are able. I am a fan of creating braver spaces, as opposed to safer spaces. The viral video of Michelle Obama’s 2016 university commencement address, “Living Without Privilege Makes You Stronger” resonated forcefully with me.

If I had to decide whether Calgary Police could march in the Pride Parade in full uniform this year, I would not know what to do.  I understand and sympathize with the arguments from both sides. I have met Calgary Police officers who are decent people and great allies.

Intellectually, I want to trust police: there are many good reasons to do so, but emotionally – because of my lived experiences – I cannot say that I do. My deepest reflex is to not trust them.

Can my feelings change?  I am not sure.  I earnestly hope so.

{KA}

 

 

The Fruit Loop in 1982

Calgary’s Gay Prostitution Stroll for many years was centred around the Lougheed House on 13th Avenue SW between 6th and 7th streets. Colloquially it was known in the gay community as “the Fruit Loop.” Trolling cars would circle the block around the Lougheed House, in a clockwise direction, due to 6th being a one-way street. In 1982 local residents who lived in apartment towers facing the Fruit Loop petitioned Calgary Police to have the stroll removed. The petition received 547 signature from area residents (165 signatures from the Birkenshaw Apartment, 166 from Hull Estates, 68 from Park 300, and 148 from Evergreen Apartments).

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Driving route on the Fruit Loop: Source Google Maps

The apartment building owners alleged they were losing renters due to the distasteful activity and the ensuing noise and traffic that the prostitutes were making. Occasionally the sex workers would even get into the buildings and rest in the apartment lobbies’ overstuffed chairs.

Inspector Bill Brink who was in charge of policing the Beltline noted that male prostitutes had been moving west from Central Memorial Park, due to increased lighting there, as well as stepped-up enforcement. He also claimed that the gay bar, the Parkside Continental at 1302 4th St. SW, was one of the drawing cards for male prostitution in the area.

The Calgary Herald on June 21st, 1982 reported that police had enhanced enforcement efforts at the Fruit Loop. Noting enforcement difficulties, Inspector Frank Mitchell reported that male prostitutes were harder to spot than female prostitutes. He said, “if there are five men walking down the street, two may be homosexual, one may be a homosexual prostitute and two may be going to the library. It’s very difficult to assess.”

Later that week at a Police Commission Meeting, the petitioners brought forth their complaint. Police Chief Brian Sawyer, said the Calgary police force was sympathetic but helpless. He recommended that citizens write to their Members of Parliament, to lobby for laws to help police deal with prostitution.

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Image source: The Calgary Herald: July 21, 1982, page B1.

The Beltline NIMBYers were not happy with that response. One woman invited the Police Chief to spend a night in her apartment to assess for himself the magnitude of the issue. Another man thought that the male prostitutes could be moved as Police had done with the female prostitution stroll. The manager of the Evergreen Estates told the commission: “I don’t think the police’s hands are tied. They can do something about the commotion. We’re talking about commotion, noise, and disturbance.  [These] young guys are howling and hooting at the moon.”

Inspector Bill Brink incidentally was the police representative on the first gay community/police liaison committee (he also notoriously had busted Club Carousel years earlier on liquor charges, and was hostile to the activist side of the gay community).  The gay members of the committee agreed to help the police relocate the Fruit Loop to 10th Avenue SW.  The compliant committee then had cards printed which they hand-delivered to the stroll’s sex workers asking them to relocate. Although it was a polite initiative, it proved ineffective.

Finally, one wonders, is it a coincidence the Fruit Loop was across from the Ranchmen’s Club, one of Calgary’s then last remaining exclusive (men-only) private members clubs?

{KA}

Gaybasher Killed in Central Park

Central Memorial Park has a history of being a cruising park for gay men, and there are many related stories of police harassment there, as well as gay bashing incidents in the now gentrified Beltline greenspace.  Yet one night, in 1979, the tables turned and a gay basher became a victim.

On Saturday, September 22nd at around 10 PM, a skirmish broke out in Central Memorial Park. The result was that Beltline resident, Thomas Earl Nash, aged 22, was stabbed in the neck with a broken bottle. A half dozen people surrounded the dying man, lying behind the Memorial Park Library.  One of Nash’s panicked friends managed to hail a cab driving by on 13th avenue, who then raced them to the Holy Cross Hospital.

Nash did not survive the night.  A silver jacket from one of the attackers was abandoned at the scene.  It was also reported that large blood stains on the sidewalk remained the next day.  The police reported that no motive had been established for the killing, but that drugs were not involved.

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Calgary Herald: Monday, September 24, 1979 page B1

The two men accused of the killing fled in a stolen car to Penticton, B.C. and were arrested by RCMP officers the following Tuesday. Brian Christopher Hawkurst, 20, and Greg Paul Spencer, 19, were charged with second-degree murder.

As the investigation proceeded, details emerged that Nash was one of three straight men who had been abusing gay men in the park. It seems that the gang of harassers hassled Hawkurst and Spencer, who then decided to hassle back. A chase ensued whereby Hawkurst and Spencer caught up to Nash at the alley behind the library, and attacked.

The alley, ironically, was well lit by a floodlight which had been installed the previous month at police request, to discourage homosexual activity in the area. Sadly, the cab driver who came to Nash’s aid reported that it was not the first time he had had to take a stabbed man from Central Memorial Park to the hospital.

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Photo: Park in 2011 by Mack Male on WikiCommons

{KA}