No. 18, May/June, 1975

Ron Dayman

Ottawa: Police and press lies end in death

What supposedly began as a campaign by the Ottawa Police to fight a rising crime-rate has ended in a homosexual witch hunt by local authorities. Ottawa-area gays became the obvious scapegoat in the police department's efforts to restore public faith in its activities and to help build its own moral.

In an evident attempt to create an atmosphere of anti homosexual hysteria, police arrested eighteen Ottawa-are gays, with the charges being laid day-to-day over a period of three weeks. The first to be arrested by the Morality Squad was 21-year-old Mike Gravel on March 4. Gravel was the organizer of a nude modeling agency which acted as a front for alleged prostitution. The Ottawa Police announced the arrest in a sensationalist manner and the media immediately picked up on this, reporting a "white slavery ring" and a "homosexual vice ring". According to these reports, boys as young as eleven years old were hired out for rates of $30 to $60 per hour. Police claimed that up to 100 boys were hired through newspaper ads or on the streets for $10 to $15 per hour. Gravel was charged with contributing to the juvenile delinquency, living off the avails of prostitution, gross indecency, keeping a bawdy house and transporting persons to a bawdy house.

Police Superintendent Thomas Flanagan was quoted as saying: "This is the most sordid crime we've investigated for some time" and spoke of "possible out of town connections". The threat of arrest of the customers on whom Gravel had kept complete files were also made. Gravel's lawyer asked for a ban on publication because the publicity surrounding his client's case would reduce the chances of a fair trial, but his request was denied.

Over the next three weeks, front-page stories continued to build the hysteria, announcing the arrest of 17 more men, all save one customers of the service, in groups of two to six. Of these, 13 were charged only with gross indecency or buggery, meaning that they had made love with persons between the ages of 16 and 21. Three others were additionally charged with contributing to juvenile delinquency, meaning that they had made love with persons between the ages of 14 and 16. One other person, a 21-year-old, was charged with assisting Gravel by acting as a chauffeur.

Not one person was accused of indecent assault, the necessary charge for sexual acts with persons under the age of 14. These arrests continued to be the subject of sensational press coverage, which referred to juveniles as young as 11 years old and to a 'vice ring'. No evidence was supplied that any ring in fact existed or that 11-year-olds were involved. In addition, the names, addresses, ages, and occupations of those arrested were published and reported not only by the local media, but in newspapers across the country and on national radio. The press were particularly pleased to report the arrest of prominent persons in their headlines; among these were the parliamentary reporter of a national television network, an RCMP corporal, a university professor, and several highly placed civil servants. Apart from two men, all of these individuals were merely customers of the service and were in no way involved in its organization. And although in heterosexual prostitution, the clients are seldom arrested and, if so, only a minor charge of being a found-in in a bawdy house, in this case 16 customers have been accused of serious charges carrying possible prison sentences of five to 14 years.

The mounting crescendo of hysteria reached its peak on March 18 when one of those accused, Warren Zufelt, a 34-year-old civil servant, committed suicide. According to reliable sources, Zufelt had threatened to commit suicide and had been talked out of it. He threatened to go through with it if his name were published. On the very day that occurred, he jumped to his death from his 13-storey apartment building.

The effect of Warren Zufelt's death was to create an atmosphere of shock in both the gay and the straight communities in Ottawa.

Gays of Ottawa, which had been contacting those arrested to offer legal advice and moral support, called a special meeting and organized two demonstrations for March 20, one against police headquarters and the other against the Ottawa Journal, the city's second daily. The demonstrations were to protest police persecution of gays, the discriminatory age-of-consent laws, which make heterosexual acts legal from the age of 14 while homosexuals do not have the right to make love until the age of 21, and the Ottawa media's coverage of the arrests which had the effect of punishing those arrested even before trial. The demonstrators had three demands: withdrawal of all charges of gross indecency and buggery and an end to police persecution of gays, uniform age-of-consent for all sexual acts, and an end to the biased, sensationalist reportage and a presentation of the truth in the media. Seventeen men and women participated in the pickets, wearing black arm bands and carrying signs reading 'uniform age-of-consent laws', End police persecution of gays!', ''Avenge Warren Zufelt!', and 'Media killed Zufelt!'. The demonstration received wide-spread and generally favourable coverage and was heavily supported by the gay community.

Support also came from the community at large. The Ottawa-Carleton Social Planning Council approved a motion to study the laying of charges to determine whether discrimination had taken place. Zufelt lawyer Leonard Shore spoke out, vocally claiming that the Ottawa Police were directly responsible for Zufelt's death by connecting his name with a 'vice ring'. The press have been under heavy attack on the issue of reporting the names of individuals charged. Both dailies have published weak editorials defending their right to inform the public. Gays of Ottawa has submitted a complaint against the Ottawa Citizen to the Ontario Press Council, condemning its sensational coverage of the arrests and its printing of the names and addresses of those accused in this context.

More significantly, NDP MLA for Ottawa Centre Michael Cassidy, who had previously resisted GO's attempts to gain his public endorsement of the campaign to include 'sexual orientation' in the Ontario Human Rights Code, wrote to Gays of Ottawa indicating that Zufelt's death was proof for him of the concrete oppression that gay people must undergo, and of the need to implement legislation to protect the civil rights of gays. He wrote to the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Labour, protesting police persecution of gays and calling for inclusion of 'sexual orientation' in the Human Rights Code.

This case will obviously have widespread implications for the gay movement as a whole. The movement will have to deal with the controversial issues of prostitution and youth sexuality. A firm stand on age-of-consent laws and Criminal Code reforms must be taken, It also shows an urgent need for the movement to be prepared to act immediately to defend the gay community when persecution occurs. Gays must organize to defend themselves and to pressure politicians to take firms stands on anti homosexual oppression.

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Last modified: December 9, 1996

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