A transgender woman who was an activist in Toronto’s LGBTQ community was murdered on December 22 in a case that is still developing, even though police immediately arrested a suspect.
Julie Berman, 51, was at 29-year-old Colin Harnack’s apartment at the intersection of Brunswick Avenue and Harbord Street in the Harbord Village section of Toronto when she was hit in the head and later pronounced dead at a local hospital, detective Rob Choe of the Toronto Police Service told Gay City News. Harnack was arrested at the scene and charged with second-degree murder.
Berman and Harnack met for the first time earlier that day, according to Toronto police.
“They spent a number of hours socializing before she was attacked,” Choe said. “We believe Berman was attacked with a weapon. We are still looking to confirm a few things, but we believe she was attacked with a weapon that is not designed to be a weapon.”
Choe also said police are also still confirming details about how the pair met.
Berman was known for her advocacy and involvement in Toronto’s LGBTQ community. She was a member of The 519, a city agency dedicated to providing counseling services, queer parenting resources, trans programming, coming out groups, workshops, advocacy campaigns, and more.
In a Facebook post, The 519 described Berman as “a beloved community member and an advocate for trans human rights.”
“Our sincerest condolences to Julie Berman’s friends, loved ones and to The 519 communities,” the organization wrote on Facebook. “It’s a tragic loss and a sad reminder to all of us that trans communities remain the most vulnerable to transphobia and violence.”
Pride Toronto, a nonprofit LGBTQ advocacy group in Toronto, also expressed sadness over Berman’s death and conveyed the important role she played in standing up for trans rights in the city.
“In loving memory of Julie Berman, a proud Trans Woman and tireless advocate who fought to raise awareness of the increasing rates of anti-trans violence across our city,” the organization wrote. “With heavy hearts, we will remember Julie.”
In a written statement, Toronto Mayor John Tory said Berman’s death represented a “devastating tragedy for the LGBTQ2S+ community and our entire city and I join all who are mourning her death.”
He added, “Every single day, people face violence and hatred because they are transgender.”
It is not clear what motivated Harnack to allegedly attack Berman. Canadian news outlet The Post Millennial notes that Harnack’s social media profiles show that he has a long history of supporting trans rights, including one post with a photo of all-gender bathrooms and hashtags reading “#bewhoyouwanttobe” and “#lgbt.”
Harnack appeared in court on December 23 but did not enter a plea. He is slated to re-appear in court on January 15.