Death on Yonge Street
By Ulli Diemer Seven News, August 13, 1977
This city, which usually seems far too cynical and hurried to care very much about anything any more, has been deeply shocked and violently angered by the murder of the little shoe-shine boy, Emmanuel Jaques, on Yonge Street. The horror of this crime has made people pause in their rat race and made them think about the society around us. It has made people realize that if they do not like the future that is unfolding before them, they will have to take responsibility for it; they will have to act themselves and not leave their city’s future to others. In this, at least, the tragedy has had a positive effect, and this can be Emmanuel’s legacy to us.
But there is also a great danger in this: the danger that some of us will act too hastily, in blind anger, without thinking first about what it is that is really wrong, and what it is that can be done about it.
It is my belief that some of the things that have been said and done during the past few weeks have been seriously misguided, even though they come from reactions and motives that are only too understandable. The result has been hatred and hysteria that threaten to lash out blindly at everything, but which may well leave the root causes untouched, or may even aggravate them. We have seen calls to “stamp out gays”, torture prisoners, hang “perverts”, give unlimited power to the police, bring back capital punishment and of course “clean up Yonge Street”. In letters to newspapers, demonstrations, and on radio talk shows, all kinds of people with axes to grind have pushed themselves forward with their own particular prejudices against homosexuals, drugs, nudism, permissiveness, etc., etc. taking advantage of the general mood of anger to gain themselves a sympathetic hearing.
Before we let ourselves be stampeded, let us sit back and look at the issues.
Don’t blame the whole group
First of all: homosexuality. The suspected killers are homosexual, true – but this in no way reflects on the gay community as a whole, any more than sex crimes committed by individual heterosexuals can be laid at the doorstep of all heterosexuals. Let us not forget that each year in Toronto hundreds of violent sexual crimes take place. Most of them are committed by heterosexual men against women. When a heterosexual commits a crime, we blame the individual. However, if a member of a minority, such as a homosexual, commits a crime we blame the whole group. I shudder to think what the reaction would have been had the suspected killers been black or Pakistani.
And then: cleaning up Yonge Street. Yonge Street has in many ways become a rotten, sleazy place, no doubt about that. But this recent crime can’t be blamed on the Yonge Street sex strip any more than the sensational sex crimes that recently took place in Vancouver, in Saskatoon, and in Etobicoke, can be blamed on those places as a whole. We may not like what they do on Yonge Street (although enough of us obviously do like it to keep them in business) but the people who work there aren’t a bunch of murderers, and they are not responsible for this murder. There is evidence, in fact, to show that where pornography and sexual services are freely available, as for example in Denmark, sex crimes tend to decrease.
It makes sense, to be sure, that we do something to prevent our main street from becoming a warren of tawdry sex shops, but let us proceed intelligently, not with vengeance. Rather than jumping to suppress what centuries of experience have shown cannot be suppressed, let us move to keep it from getting out of hand, for example, by limiting the number of operations allowed on a particular street, and by restricting the kinds of street-front advertising permitted.
Ultimately, however we have to recognize that this kind of sexual business thrives in a society where sex is tied to guilt, and where women, particularly, are seen as sex objects. Sex shops and services like those on Yonge Street owe their existence to guilty, repressed sex, and the attempt to drive them underground would only deepen the guilt and frustration that gave birth to them in the first place. It is this kind of repression that creates sex criminals: when powerful creative energies are suppressed, they re-emerge, ugly and dangerous.
In the long run, the only way to “clean up Yonge Street” is to foster an attitude to sex that is open, loving, and guilt-free. Then there will be no more need to buy and sell this vital part of our lives as if it were a form of merchandise.
Published in Seven News, Volume 8, Number 6, August 13, 1977
Murder in Canada