Sunday, 2 December 2012

Encounters With Police.

My family was very law abiding so we never saw the Police in  a negative situation. I will never forget, though, the first encounter with a policeman while he was on duty.

When we were kids, my sister - Alda - and I caught the country bus every Saturday morning into New Westminster in order to take music lessons - she on the violin and I on the piano. The local bus stop was at the foot of our neighbor's driveway. One Saturday. while we were waiting - an RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police)   cruiser pulled up in front of us. In the front passenger seat was John Kirkup - my best buddy in school. As far as I can remember, he had never told me what his Dad did for a living so it was a shock to see that he was the Police presence at Essondale - the mental hospital about half a mile from where we lived. Upon John's request, he pulled up to give us a lift into town.

The ride did not involve sirens nor flashing lights - just an ordinary trip - but I was awestruck.

Some years later I was in Alice Springs, Australia and I - along with my traveling companion - had a difficult time in finding permanent employment so we decided to hitchhike up to Darwin - the Capital of the Northern Territory.

We walked out of town until we were clear of businesses and began hitching. We were there all day and nobody stopped - except the local Police constable. He was not offering a ride but demanded who we were, where were we off to and that we had better hightail it back into town. As you may have read in my blog "Alice Springs" both of us found steady employment soon after that so never went to Darwin.

As we were transients the Police Officer was very stern and rather unnerving.

Many years later I was back in Vancouver and the Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church there. I lived in the West End which was where the majority of LGBT people lived in the many low and highrises located there. Over time some of those residential streets became Hooker Strolls which raised the ire of many of the residents - they came out of their apartments and tried to force the hookers to leave. This caused a riot.

The riot was not a pleasant occurrence but it did spur the Police Department into establishing an LGBT/Police Liaison Committee. Both of my predecessors  had served on that committee then - when I became Pastor - it was expected that I would follow suit.

At first I was awestruck while being nervous about who I was and who the Police were rumored to be. However, I found them to be very nice men and women. What helped was that, individually, they had all volunteered to serve and, therefore, were open to our needs and opinions. Also - once the trust was established - they brought to the table troublesome situations for us to advise them.

For instance, men were using the restroom near the children's playground in Stanley Park as a place to encounter like minded men. What should they do? We knew that most of these men were from the suburbs of North and West Vancouver who would never pick up nor read our community publications. Therefore, our advice was that they go ahead and arrest a few. They did and the problem vanished.

Also, our committee received  a letter from the management of a downtown hotel detailing unwelcome activities in a public washroom in the underground Mall. What should they do about it? Our advice was for the washroom to be redesigned  to make it 'unfriendly' for sexual activity.

Later, after I had become the Pastor, I was called by someone complaining about unwelcome activity in the male washroom in a suburban mall. As I had an errand out in the general vicinity of that mall, I dropped in for a visit. I went into the male washroom and was appalled by the poor design.

Back in Vancouver I telephoned the manager of the department store where this activity was occurring and asked if I - and another committee member - could meet with him to discuss the situation. The manager invited the in-house security person to sit in on the discussion. Both my friend and I strongly advised that the washroom in question be completely renovated in order to discourage the unwelcome activity. The manager was relieved and went on to tell us who was 'caught' which included a clerk from a neighboring store and a clergyman!

I moved to Toronto in 1989 which was eight years after the notorious bathhouse raids. The outcome of that unhappy event was that the LGBT community was invited to select people from the community to sit with the Police Force to discuss the situation. I was one of the people elected to the committee and I served on it for 10 years and met some really great Police officers - both male and female. That committee is still meeting and has quietly moved forward in education of members of the Police Department as well as to get the word out to our community that the Police were NOT our enemies but friends!

I will conclude this post with two photos taken of the Police socializing with members of the LGBT Community.  

Through the leadership of one of the senior Police Officers we began "Coffee With the Cops" evenings. In this photo, the woman on the left and the man second from the right are Police Officers. It was a cold winter evening when we met in front of one of the Gay establishments on Church Street in Toronto.

Police officers joining members and friends of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto at an afternoon fundraiser. Obviously, the younger man in the left foreground is an officer and the man two places to the left of him - sitting beside me - was the Senior Liaison Officer. I wouldn't trade the experiences I had while serving on the committees in Vancouver and Toronto for any thing!


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