Kyle Kirkup, Policing Sex[uality] [2017 C4eJ 22] (Forum)

Kyle Kirkup
Faculty of Law-Common Law Section

In Canada, we have a conventional story that the carceral state no longer targets queer people. Many people point to the federal government’s recognition of same-sex marriage in 2005 as solidifying a new legal position for queer people in Canada. This story may be partially true, particularly for the most privileged members of queer communities.

But only certain members have benefitted from the promise of marriage equality–those who can don the garb of coupled, privatized, presumptively monogamous respectability. Others, especially those who are visibly associated with sex, have not benefitted from this promise; they continue to find themselves targeted by the carceral state.

In a book length project I’m currently working on, I point to a number of junctures where queer people find themselves ensnared in the repressive aspects of criminal justice–sex workers targeted by police on the street, HIV-positive people charged with aggravated sexual assault for failing to disclose their status, and trans women placed in men’s prisons because they haven’t undergone gender-affirming surgery, among others.

The most recent example–Project Marie and the policing of public sex–is best understood in a longer history of carceral apparatuses targeting those queer legal subjects associated with criminality, promiscuity, and deviance.

  • 1981: Project Soap – Toronto Bathhouse Raids. A galvanizing moment in queer history — protests and creation of a legal defence fund.
  • 1996: Project Rosebud – Undercover sex sting operation at Burlington’s Botanical Gardens.
  • 2000: Pussy Palace – Male officers enter into a women-only bathhouse event, purportedly in search of liquor licence violations. Eventually, the charges are stayed because the police violated the women’s Charter Rights. We also see a human rights complaint that leads to the first LGBTQ-related training for the Toronto Police Service.
  • 2016: Project Marie. One more time with feeling, the police target non-normative sex.

At the same time, we have seen the emergence of a countermovement of sorts–attempts to wrap police cruisers and prison vehicles in rainbow flags. In the book project, I call this the “law and order queer movement”–one that runs the risk of bolstering carceral agendas and logics. Queers, I argue, are being marshalled to provide crucial ideological support for a system that continues to violently target the most vulnerable members of our communities.

Ultimately, Project Marie provides yet another example of why our communities ought to remain skeptical of wrapping punitive agendas in rainbow garb. Instead, as we have seen most recently with Project Marie, we must work to provide support to those who find themselves ensnared in the repressive aspects of criminal justice, while also returning to logics and analytics of decriminalization.