Myron Demkiw, Photo: Toronto Police
TORONTO – After being sworn into the position on December 19, Myron Demkiw has become Toronto’s new Chief of Police. This comes as many Queer activists and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community advocated against the appointment due to his involvement in the 2000 raid of a Queer women’s bathhouse in Toronto.
The Toronto Women’s Bathhouse Committee started organizing bathhouse parties for women and transmen in the late 1990s. Dubbed “Pussy Palace”, the parties created a safe haven for queer women in the city.
On September 14, 2000, the committee hosted a bathhouse event at Club Toronto. Toronto police raided the party, with male officers claiming to be checking for liquor licenses, without giving warning to the hundreds of women who were attending the event, many of whom were in various states of undress. Charges were laid against two women, Rachel Aitcheson and JP Hornick, for liquor license violations.
The raids were followed by protests from Toronto’s LGBTQ2S+ community, who had grown tired of the police’s raids of Queer establishments in the city. In 2002 a judge dismissed the charges against Aitcheson and Hornick, saying that both their constitutional rights and the rights of people in attendance at the party had been violated.
The Women’s Bathhouse Committee filed an Ontario Human Rights Commission complaint and class-action suit against the police. It was settled in 2005, ending in a $350,000 settlement. In 2016, then Toronto Chief of Police Mark Saunders apologized for various Toronto police raids on Queer establishments.
Queer Women Call Out Police Chief
Chanelle Gallant and JP Hornick are original members of the Toronto Women’s Bathhouse Committee. The two women were at the centre of the September 2000 police raid, and earlier this year published an open letter to Toronto Mayor John Tory, and Jim Hart, Chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, calling for a public meeting to address their concerns about Demkiw’s appointment.
“We are writing to express our opposition to the appointment of Myron Demkiw as Chief of Police. Mr. Demkiw was one of the officers responsible for the planning and execution of a raid on a queer event,” the letter reads.
“Mr. Demkiw was also among the officers who then sued a sitting city councillor for speaking up in our defence, and was involved in a series of additional raids on queer spaces that same year: this was not an isolated incident nor a momentary lapse in judgement,” the letter continues.
“In the intervening years, the Toronto police were found to be twenty times more likely to shoot Black residents dead. They looked away while a serial killer preyed on gay men and trans women went missing. And yet, you have appointed Mr. Demkiw to lead the police at this time,” the statement continues, adding that anything less than a public meeting would not suffice.
A memo at the top of the letter claims that the Chair of the Toronto Police Services Board had offered to meet with them, but the two women refused to meet unless the meeting was open to all community members, and Demkiw was not in attendance.
“It is our view that it is not appropriate for Mr. Demkiw to attend as the meeting’s purpose is for the community to voice their concerns about his appointment and they must be able to do so freely and without intimidation. Community members should not be expected to speak in the same room as the officer who has committed human rights abuses against that community,” reads an email by Gallant and Hornick sent to John Tory and Jim Hart.
Advocates say the meeting never happened.
Toronto Speaks Out
On Monday, the new chief acknowledge concerns about his appointment, saying that the LGBTQ2S+ community’s trust and confidence in Toronto police have been shaken by a number of instances, adding that he believes he needs to go into the community to learn more to “bridge the gap”.
The same day, Toronto Centre MPP Kristyn Wong-Tam took to social media to share how they felt about the appointment.
“Toronto has a new police chief but his ascension wasn’t without controversy as he planned & led the women’s bathhouse raid. In Oct the community asked the Mayor for a public meeting to discuss concerns. The 519 offered to host it. Meeting never took place.”
While other Torontonians have been sharing their concerns for weeks.
“Tomorrow Myron Demkiw is installed as the new Toronto Police Chief. Demkiw was centrally involved in the raid on the Pussy Palace and on a number of Black communities. We need to protest this and rise up against this decision. Defund and abolish the police!” wrote one person on Twitter.
“Let’s be clear. While the installation of THIS police chief is a slap in the face to queer and Black communities, nothing less than the abolition of policing and the carceral state, giving land back to Indigenous peoples, resourcing and centering marginalized communities will do,” tweeted another person in the city.
While others disagree.
“That’s decades ago. Is that all you can find? I’m certainly not the same person I was when [the] bath house was raided. I’m ashamed of what I thought was right 20 yrs ago compared to today,” one person responded to Wong-Tam’s tweet.
Let us know in the comments, how do you feel about Myron Demkiw’s appointment?