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Church-Wellesley Village confrontation with street preacher leads to questions about police response time

Last Updated Jun 24, 2019 at 8:37 am EDT

A tense incident erupted at the intersection of Church and Wellesley streets on Tuesday after a street preacher who denounced homosexuality as sinful was confronted by angry members of the community.

Police tell CityNews they received a call at around 5:18 p.m. for a man causing a disturbance by yelling hateful messages. A second call was placed minutes later for an assault in progress.

By the time police arrived at around 5:47 p.m. the incident had cleared, but video showing parts of the heated confrontation was posted to Instagram.

Marianne Thea, who was walking home from work along Church Street, recorded two separate videos that she’s since posted to the social media site.

“I heard a lot of screaming and yelling…people throwing things. As I got closer it sounded like “gays are sinners” and swearing, and people defending themselves,” she explained. “It’s an aggressive attack on someone’s lifestyle and being.”

The first video Thea recorded shows several members of the community confronting the preacher, who was accompanied by another person.

“Back up, back up, back up,” the preacher can be heard telling one bearded man who stands within inches of him.

“God loves you and I love you,” the preacher says into a microphone as an agitated crowd surrounds him.

“Why the f**k are you even here with your s**t?” one person asks.

“Because you guys are sinners,” he responds, to audible shouts and laughter from bystanders.

A second video begins with the man’s podium, which reads Ministry of the WORD, toppled and his pamphlets scattered on the sidewalk.

A person appears to take a swat at him and yells “f**k you.”

“I still love you,” the preacher exclaims. “This is true love. Show me your love. You can hit me, you can throw stuff on me, you can destroy my stuff and I still love you.”

“You guys have all just made yourselves look terrible and millions of people are going to see this,” he adds before the video abruptly ends.

It’s not clear what transpired between the two videos but witness Jaymie Sampa says the community members took matters into their own hands after police failed to show up in a timely fashion.

Sampa, who is in charge of anti-violence initiatives for The 519 on Church Street — an organization dedicated to advocacy for the inclusion of LGBTQ communities — believes the preachers purposely incited violence.

“There was an obvious desire to incite a response, to incite violence and unsurprisingly the response from the community was exactly that,” she said. “It was like a growing and escalating mass of people who responded to being under attack and having their very existence called into question.”

“We as a queer and trans community…are not strangers to violence, we are not strangers to having to listen to unrelentingly hurtful and hateful things. And people responded. We are exceptionally resilient. So yes, people took action. People unplugged the microphone, people responded in ways that become physical.”

Toronto police tell CityNews an investigation is underway. So far no charges have been laid and no victims have come forward.

The Toronto police LGBTQ community liaison team acknowledged the incident on Twitter, saying that a team member had already reached out to community members and would be in the Church-Wellesley area on Thursday “to support those impacted.”

Sampa says she personally called the liaison officers but no one answered. She also claims police were slow to respond to several 911 calls and calls placed to 51 Division from witnesses and staff at The 519.

“I think the response time was grossly inadequate,” she alleged. “We needed support, we handled (it) ourselves, but we waited and waited and waited.”

Sampa says two people were injured during the confrontation, with one requiring an ambulance, but it’s not clear how they sustained their injuries.

“This is a deeply concerning incident that has taken place that calls into question community safety … because we were left without support in a violent incident.”

Toronto police say their response time was appropriate, adding that rush hour traffic was a factor.

“With the conditions yesterday and officers at a priority one call, the moment they were made available (they) immediately made their way over,” said Const. Jennifer Sidhu.