Historicist: Racism and Homophobia in the Pages of a Police Magazine

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Historicist: Racism and Homophobia in the Pages of a Police Magazine

Prejudiced articles from a newsletter exacerbated tensions between the police, homosexuals, and other minority groups.

Cover of the March 1979 edition of News & Views.

Cover of the March 1979 edition of News & Views.

“This sickness or aberration should never become a right.”

Highlighted in bold, the introduction to Staff Sergeant Tom Moclair’s article “The Homosexual Fad” in the March 1979 edition of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Association’s (MTPA) newsletter News & Views seemed to confirm that prejudice toward the city’s gay community thrived amongst its cops. The article exacerbated the hostility felt throughout the previous two years in the wake of the murder of Emanuel Jaques on Yonge Street, the charges filed against The Body Politic magazine for distributing an article about man/boy love, and a raid on the Barracks bathhouse.

The inspiration for Moclair’s diatribe occurred just three days into 1979. Recently elected mayor John Sewell appeared at a rally supporting The Body Politic at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Education building. In front of over 600 attendees, Sewell stressed freedom of the press and that it wasn’t illegal to be homosexual. “Sometimes the actions of the police and other law enforcement agencies seem structured so as to suggest to the public that a specific should be generalized—that one particular act within the gay community is a reflection of all members of that community,” Sewell observed. “Such an impression should not be allowed to stand. The police must be very careful to ensure that their actions are interpreted as narrowly as possible. Unfortunately the opposite seems to be the case.”

Sewell expressed his disgust at the police seizure of The Body Politic’s mailing list, and reassured the audience that city council enacted a policy ensuring that City Hall wouldn’t discriminate against homosexuals. “We know it’s not illegal to be gay. We should take the next step and make it clearly legitimate to be gay.”

Source: Globe and Mail, January 4, 1979.

From the Globe and Mail, January 4, 1979.

Criticism of Sewell’s speech was swift. City Hall’s switchboard was flooded with irate calls ranging from cries of “homosexual pervert” to demands for his resignation. Some councillors and media outlets questioned Sewell’s timing, especially as The Body Politic case was still in the courts. Sewell felt he had acted appropriately, noting that “the gay community felt itself under attack and I believe it was under attack. I have no regrets.”

Among those who felt Sewell went too far was Tom Moclair. The 22-year veteran of 14 Division was inspired by an opinion piece by York University psychiatry professor Daniel Cappon published by the Star in January 1973. Titled “The Homosexual Hoax,” Cappon claimed the public, falling prey to “gutless permissiveness,” was being tricked by whiny gays suffering from a corruptive emotional sickness which compelled them to convert innocent youth to their depravity. The piece provoked piles of letters to the editor. Supporters of Cappon commended him for his bravery in speaking out, while critics included 57 faculty colleagues who rejected his stance (“Cappon’s views represent those of only one psychiatrist, and certainly not one of the more humane”).

Moclair was blunt about how he felt about homosexuals:

I was saddened and desolated that the Mayor of Toronto recently sanctioned acts of perversion which symptomize the decadence of our society in his liberal and flippant show of appreciation to a few hundred homosexuals who helped him get elected. These “weirdos” may need our tolerance and acceptance, but certainly not our approval to continue their psychological sickness in foisting their acts of depravity on the long-suffering public.

Segments of our society suffering from homosexuality which calls itself “homophile,” “gays,” “fags,” and “fruits,” etc., provide us with a vivid example of how far we in Canada have gone down the “road to debauchery.” Just look at them; victims of emotional sickness, misfits of their environments, attempting to turn their aberration into a right, as well as a virtue.

Just listen to them talk (if you can stomach them); and they sure like to talk, because talk is a penchant of homosexuality especially in the physically deprived and cowardly male. If you were ignorant of what they are and what they represent, you would think that their type of deviance was a valuable asset. But let us remember that homosexuality is nothing new. Many cultures throughout history have dealt with them almost universally with disdain, disgust, abhorrence, and even death.

And that’s just the first three paragraphs. Over the next page and a half, Moclair frothed about arrogant militants out to seduce boys, how Canadians were aghast at Pierre Trudeau’s promise to keep the government out of the nation’s bedrooms, how taxpayer money was wasted on educating the public about homosexuality, that the concept of sexual preference was bunk, and that the public needed to show more reverence to God. Through much of the piece, Moclair comes close to plagiarizing Cappon’s diatribe.

Cartoon by Andy Donato, reprinted in the August 1979 edition of News & Views.

Cartoon by Andy Donato, reprinted in the August 1979 edition of News & Views.

Homosexuals weren’t the sole targets of vitriol in this particular issue of News & Views. Retired officer Ken Peglar’s “Pensioners News” column mixed tidbits for fellow retirees with the musings of what now seems like an antiquated blowhard and his unfiltered id. The March installment began with a mild potshot at Catholics and uniting churches.

Then Peglar really got rolling.

I sometimes wish I were a black man or a Pakistani or Jewish…or something along those lines: someone with a problem. Take me (for the purpose of this discussion, you must, you know). Let’s say for the sake of argument that I’m fairly decent have a bit more on my mind than the Tuesday morning bowling. I’m being bombarded on all sides by inflation, unemployment, the falling dollar, juvenile delinquency, the crime rate, prison conditions, womens lib, neglected children, doctors leaving the country, my family, families of friends, the Star Fresh Air and Santa Claus Funds…I’ve got my own problems…and that’s just a few I happened to be able to think of on the spur of the moment. I’m a WASP, so these things are of concern.

But nobody expects a black man to think of anything but his colour or a Jew to concern himself with anything but his Jewishness.

And you know something, they seldom do.

Word of both articles spread quickly beyond the circulation of News & Views, hitting Toronto’s daily newspapers on March 20, 1979. Sewell vowed to tell MTPA president Mal Connolly to use better judgment in future issues. Alderman Allan Sparrow felt the pieces marked “one of the darkest days in the history of police-community relations in Toronto.” A Globe and Mail editorial feared that Moclair’s piece did little to reassure fears regarding prejudice among police. Gay activist George Hislop challenged the police department to charge the publication with publishing “indecent, immoral or scurrilous material”—the same charge brought against The Body Politic. Other activists called meetings to discuss further actions, such as distributing copies to officials at all levels of government.

The authors defended their articles. Moclair, painting policemen as a minority group, claimed that his views on homosexuals didn’t interfere with his job. When a Star reporter contacted him, Moclair fretted that they would publish a piece about his story. “This was for an internal publication,” he noted. “It’s unfortunate for me, grief to me, because I’m sure the department won’t like me to be embarrassing them.”

Peglar, who spent nearly 40 years as an officer, confessed that while he had no personal experience with Black people, he attended school with Jews. “I’m not perfect,” he told the Star, “it’s just a comment by a senior citizen.” He reflected that half a century earlier the “yellow peril” made people uptight, and that when he was active there were few of “these ethnic problems.”

Metro Police Commissioner (and former mayor) Phil Givens was vacationing in Florida when the controversy struck. He promised to launch an investigation upon his return a week later. Police chief Harold Adamson, away on business in Ottawa, said that Moclair was entitled to his opinion as long as it didn’t affect his work. Deputy chief Jack Ackroyd felt it would have been in the force’s best interest that Moclair’s article had not published. He also noted that a scan of Moclair’s background showed no overt acts of bigotry, and that the article did not contravene police rules. Connolly found Moclair’s piece well-written, but quickly denied an initial comment to the Globe and Mai where he agreed with the content.

When Adamson returned to Toronto, he met with Moclair for half an hour. “Moclair has deep religious convictions, which apparently were what prompted him to write the article,” Adamson told the press. While the chief didn’t feel the article aided community relations, no immediate action was taken.

In a March 25, 1979 editorial, the Star observed that “much of the good work the department has done in gaining the confidence and cooperation of minority groups in Metro is likely to be undone.” Columnist Stephen Lewis felt Ackroyd and Adamson’s reactions were “so namby pamby that any homosexual would have the right to interpret them as turning a blind eye to harassment,” and that the articles fit a reactionary phase among police forces in their views toward minorities, rape, and capital punishment. “When those who uphold the law have so little appreciation of its spirit,” Lewis concluded, “it does damage to the whole community.”

Source: Toronto Star, March 27, 1979.

From the Toronto Star, March 27, 1979.

The following evening, Reform Toronto, a left-leaning lobby group, held a meeting at City Hall led by lawyer Clayton Ruby which brought together community leaders and rights activists from a variety of minority groups. Civil rights lawyer Charles Roach called for the firing of any officials known to be bigots. Brent Hawkes, representing the Right to Privacy Committee formed in the wake of the 1978 Barracks raid, urged the disparate groups to stand together and be wary of homophobic organizations. Resolutions included calls for a public apology, an inquiry into racist attitudes within the force, a independent, citizen-controlled complaint bureau, and giving Metro Council full authority to appoint all five members of the police commission (at the time, the province picked two seats).

On March 28, Adamson and Connolly succumbed to pressure and issued public apologies. Adamson admitted that remarks like Moclair’s adversely affected how police did their job, while Peglar’s ramblings “had an unsettling and disturbing effect on many people in this community.” He reiterated that there wasn’t enough evidence to warrant a charge against Moclair under the Police Act—“You just can’t fire people these days.”

Connolly said that the MTPA didn’t condone prejudicial attitudes, and that News & Views‘s content would be watched more closely by the MTPA. “Unfortunately, both articles have been wrongly perceived to reflect on the way in which we as police officers carry out our duties,” he noted in a subsequent News & Views editorial. “We will continue to permit authors to freely express their own personal views but at the same time, exercise more editorial control to keep articles within the bounds of good taste and propriety.”

“The incident can now be considered closed. It shows that we have a fine force in Metro whose members take their work seriously and are earnestly trying to improve their relationship with all minorities in the city,” concluded a March 29 Star editorial. At best, this was a hopelessly naïve statement, as the fury was anything but over.

Cartoon by Andy Donato, Toronto Sun, March 29, 1979.

Cartoon by Andy Donato, Toronto Sun, March 29, 1979.

On April 2, Toronto City Council voted unanimously to condemn the MTPA for publishing the articles. Initially, councillors were divided over taking action, until Allan Sparrow produced Peglar’s December 1978 column, which took aim at Catholics, Italians, and slow Jewish drivers. A small sampling:

I think it’s about time somebody did something to protect us WASPs from all these other ethnic groups in Metro. After all, we’re a minority group now. The west side of Dufferin and Lawrence is dominated by Italian Roman Catholics…Now that they’ve elected a Polish Pope, we can look to lots of co-operation between the Communists and the Vatican. They both have the same ambition: world domination.

Alderman Joe Piccininni was among those whose minds were swayed by the new evidence. “You’d think that this was impossible, that this came out of a comic magazine, but it’s from Toronto’s finest,” he noted. “They allow themselves to put out this as if it’s the gospel from this pensioner.” Sewell felt it was becoming a war of words, with few concrete actions being taken.

The Sun’s Mark Bonokoski attempted to defend Peglar, by reminding readers of his column that Sparrow was found to have libeled two cops the previous year. Peglar’s musings were presented as being tongue-in-cheek. The column reads as if accompanied by mournful violins. “If I’ve offended any of the ordinary folk in this city, I am truly sorry,” Peglar reflected. “But there isn’t a bigoted bone in my body. I’ve taken shots at everyone. The Irish, the Welsh, the Americans. Maybe I’m a complete bigot because I even take shots at myself.”

One of Peglar’s colleagues, News & Views contributor Gordon Henderson, observed that Peglar thought the magazine was bland and needed to be stirred up. “Unfortunately,” he told the Globe and Mail, “it has gone beyond the membership.” At first, the MTPA announced Peglar’s columns would undergo tighter editorial scrutiny. But then Globe and Mail columnist Dick Beddoes dug deeper into Peglar’s archive, finding shots taken at French Canadians, women, and homosexuals. The Star opined that the MTPA gave “no thought to the harm Peglar’s propaganda could do to law and order. Why should an Italian, a Pole, or a Chinese trust the fairness and objectivity of a Metro policeman, why should they come forward with information when they a subject of contempt in the policemen’s magazine?”

By June 1979, Peglar was shuffled off the pensioner beat, though he would write some book reviews.

Meanwhile, the police commission heard deputations on April 5 about force attitudes toward homosexuality and race. Among the items discussed was a call from the Right to Privacy Committee to dismiss Sergeant Gary Donovan for informing three school boards that teachers they employed were arrested at the Barracks. One speaker defined the relations between the gay community and police as “gloomy.” Speakers repeated called for disciplinary action and the implementation of a civilian review board. Givens made assurances that the issues raised would be dealt with quickly.

Ad for Metropolitan Toronto Police Association, Toronto Sun, September 12, 1979.

Ad for Metropolitan Toronto Police Association from the Toronto Sun, September 12, 1979.

Only they weren’t. By mid-May, activists were growing impatient. The police commission was accused of stalling on items such as making a clear statement on the force’s stance on sexual orientation. Givens urged patience until the commission issued a report on May 31, one which gay activists found too generic to address their concerns. The commission also declined to fire Moclair or Donovan, as neither violated police regulations.

Right to Privacy Committee member Peter Maloney felt the report avoided addressing the tense relationship between homosexuals and the police, providing further fuel for bitterness and hate. He also claimed that police were stepping up their actions against homosexuals. Over the next few months, The Body Politic reported on increases in verbal abuse from officers, as well as entrapment operations at washrooms in Greenwin Square and Shoppers World Danforth. Those harassed were encouraged to call the magazine with their accounts. They advised readers to avoid angry exchanges and take down vital information such as badge numbers, license plates, and exact time of the incident.

At its June 28 meeting, the police commission refused to add sexual orientation to a “declaration of concern and intent” drawn up a month earlier, despite motions from city and Metro councils to include an explicit statement. Deputations at the meeting, which included a teen who was charged with two counts of possessing illegal weapons for wearing a punk-styled combo of chain belt and spiked collar and taunted by officers with statements like “are you gay?” and “do you give blow jobs?” were practically ignored as commissioner/Metro chair Paul Godfrey presented a pair of pre-typed resolutions which stated that the force was anti-discriminatory in public dealings and that there would be no unauthorized disclosures of arrests without the chief’s permission.

Tensions continued to rise over the summer. Failed attempts were made by the Right to Privacy Committee to meet with Ontario attorney general Roy McMurtry over a raid on the home of a teacher accused of keeping a common bawdy house and the seizure of the NDP’s gay caucus membership list. This culminated in a sit-in (or, as Sun Queen’s Park columnist Claire Hoy put it, a “mince-in”) outside McMurtry’s office in late August. In late July, an Ontario Police Commission report rejected demands for public inquiry on the force’s dealings with minorities, and declared that further review of Moclair’s article was useless.

Cardinal Carter (left) and John Sewell (top). Cartoon by Andy Donato, Toronto Sun, September 12, 1979.

Cardinal Carter (left) and John Sewell (top). Cartoon by Andy Donato from the Toronto Sun, September 12, 1979.

The shooting of Jamaican immigrant Albert Johnson after police responded to a disorderly complaint at his home on August 26, and the subsequent special investigations, intensified the anger felt by minorities. Relations between all groups concerned deteriorated so badly that Gerald Emmett Cardinal Carter was called in by Godfrey in early September to act as a mediator.

While Carter met daily with activists, community members, and officials, the MTPA tried to boost sagging officer morale with an ad campaign to awaken public support for the force. Connolly claimed that if public confidence continued to dive, the force may as well disband. “The men are asking if anybody cares or even knows about the job they are doing,” he told the Globe and Mail. “They are fed up with seeing themselves presented as machine-gun-toting brutes in jackboots and helmets going round gunning people down.” The desired effect was, for the moment, achieved, as hundreds of supportive calls were received, and some stations received floral bouquets.

Carter issued his report on October 29, 1979. Regarding homosexuality, he was upfront about the juggling act of where the Roman Catholic Church stood on sexual orientation versus respect for civil rights.

One of the groups which I interviews, and which is hardest to categorize, is the self-avowed homosexual community. In my discussion with them I made it very clear that it was not my intention to compromise my position in regard to the practice of homosexuality. But my role here is not directly theological and my position is taken on the basis of civil and human rights.

No one will reasonably expect homosexuals who break the law to have any species of immunity. Nor do they, in my judgement, constitute a community which may legitimately demand special consideration. But neither should they be the object of vilification, harassement or an excess of zeal in pursuing them with more fervour and perhaps relish than other citizens or groups of citizens. Being a homosexual does not constitute an offence either against the moral order or the civil law. Practicing homosexuality does, in the judgment of many, constitute an offense against the moral order. But if limited to a private dimension, this practice is hardly a concern of the police force which has or ought to have many more urgent preoccupations.

He noted that verbal abuse was too prevalent, urging the chief to instruct officers to cut it out. The report urged people to beware agitators amidst minority groups who promote further divisiveness. Overall, the report encouraged closer ties with communities though increased foot patrols and a general liaison committee, and better education of officers to combat prejudice and racism.

Carter was horrified by the content of News & Views:

I recognize that the police authorities have no jurisdiction in this regard but when one sees racist articles being written by men who were for a long time police officers one must arrive at the conclusion that when they were exercising their authority in the streets of Toronto they were also racists. One does not become a racist upon resigning from the force. One grows up in that condition. This in itself is a serious black eye to the Police Association and to the members of the force, so many of whom do not deserve it.

Cartoon by Andy Donato, Toronto Sun, October 31, 1979.

Cartoon by Andy Donato from the Toronto Sun, October 31, 1979.

Godfrey termed the report “a masterpiece.” Others, like Dick Beddoes, felt Carter reiterated complaints heard all along which, had they been submitted by, say, Sewell, “might have been dismissed by the hierarchy of the Metro force and police union as a rabble-rousing document.” Connolly felt the report was generally positive toward police, but was ultimately insignificant. Association of Gay Electors president Tom Warner felt it barely tackled the gay community’s complaints. “Considering the extent of police harassment of gays in the past few years,” Warner noted, “I think the report should have specifically recommended police education on gay issues, and the establishment of a liaison committee with the gay community.”

Relations between police and the gay community continued to deteriorate, as did the relationship between the police and the mayor. As Carter prepared his report, the MTPA declared a non-confidence motion regarding Sewell. His antagonism with the police and support of the gay community were critical factors in his defeat in the 1980 municipal election. News & Views continued to poke people its writers didn’t like—the appointment of openly gay George Hislop and Black Trinidadian Margaret Gittins to the city planning board in 1980 was eyed with skepticism. Continuing police harassment would culminate in the furor and general outrage that followed the bathhouse raids in February 1981.

Additional material from Report to the Civic Authorities of Metropolitan Toronto and Its Citizens by Gerald Emmett Cardinal Carter (Toronto, October 29, 1979); the March-April 1979, August 1979, September 1979, October 1979, and December 1979 editions of The Body Politic; the January 5, 1979, March 21, 1979, March 22, 1979, March 27, 1979, March 29, 1979, April 3, 1979, April 4, 1979, April 5, 1979, April 6, 1979, May 18, 1979, July 28, 1979, September 7, 1979, and October 30, 1979 editions of the Globe and Mail; the March 1979, April 1979, June 1979, November 1979, and February 1980 editions of News & Views; the January 10, 1973, January 5, 1979, January 6, 1979, March 20, 1979, March 23, 1979, March 25, 1979, March 27, 1979, March 29, 1979, April 3, 1979, April 8, 1979, June 1, 1979, September 8, 1979, September 17, 1979, and October 29, 1979 editions of the Toronto Star; and the April 4, 1979 edition of the Toronto Sun.

Every Saturday, Historicist looks back at the events, places, and characters that have shaped Toronto into the city we know today.


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