February 29 - March 6, 1996

Glenn Wheeler

p. A18.

Sex Raid Strikes Fear

It's not the paying customers who got splattered at the Monday Night Sperm Attack, the headline show at Remington's gay strip bar on Yonge Street.

Its was the morality cops who raided the club on February 19, now caught with egg on their face after surprising not only the staff and patrons but also a lot of the police brass, currently trying to get Metro council to give them more precious public funds for the fight against crime.

Caught in the crossfire is Jack Layton, who has angered some of his friends by launching a campaign against lap dancing now being used by police to justify last week's raid, which ensnared 19 people -- dancers, patrons and staff.

The police didn't invoke the Metro bylaw against lap dancing, but say they used a recent court decision outlawing the practice to measure what is allowable.

The charges laid at Remington's included some prostitution-related " bawdy house offences." (Dancers held sessions with patrons in private cubicles, allegedly for monetary considerations. ) There were also charges related to performing "an indecent theatrical act" -- to wit, jerking off onstage to the delight of hundreds of patrons, except for the complainant who called the cops.

Detective sergeant Chris Hobson of the morality unit of Special Investigative Services located in Don Mills says the raid was sparked by a patron's complaint. The police get many complaints, he says, but they proceed only on serious ones.

"Our criteria is that a person who phones has to be specific -- when you were there, what you saw, what were they doing."

For his part, Hobson says there are only five officers specializing in prostitution in the whole of Metro. He says they are a "reactive" unit that responds to complaints rather than taking initiative in finding places to bust. He adds that there are no other investigations into gay establishments going on right now. "There is no campaign against gay bars or any other type of bar."

Collective Fear

Nevertheless, fear stalks the gay community. In the days since the raid, there have been three community meetings, with a fourth scheduled for 8 pm tonight (Thursday) at 519 Church as the community engages in a collective hand-wringing -- was this an isolated incident or is this the prelude to another, bigger raid like the bathhouse raids of that February night 15 years ago?

One of the reasons for the paranoia is that the gay community is enjoying a level of permissiveness unknown in the history of Toronto, which is quickly become one of the most liberal cities in North America (and a magnet for gay tourists) because of its newfound open-mindedness.

Not only are there a score of nightclubs and five gay bathhouses but there is also an increasing number of establishments with "back rooms" dark places to have sex.

As lawyer Charles Campbell told 200 people at a community meeting last Sunday night, "We enjoy a certain amount of forbearance because the police don't want to face the same kind of fight (as they did after the 1981 bath raids)."

Still, there are fears that the Remington's raid spells the end of Toronto's sexual golden age, and that whether or not the community can preserve its zone of tolerance from further incursions depends on being able to put together the kind of political and legal machine that successfully fought the 1981 raids.

They will also be trying to publicly embarrass the police for devoting an estimated 1,000 hours of staff time to investigating charges where there are not victims involved. Expenditures on a "morality" raid are hard to justify when the police are trying to get dollars out of Metro that could be spend on child care.

Area councillor Kyle Rae says that while the police had officers tied up in the Remington's investigation, he has tried in vain to get the police to deal with people selling crack in the telephone booths at Dundas and Jarvis in broad daylight. He'll be trying to get residents' groups desperate for scarce police service to solve their neighbourhood problems onboard in the public condemnation of the Remington's charges.

There are signs that the downtown police brass were taken aback by the police raid. Both Rae and Metro councillor Olivia Chow have contacted senior staff at downtown 52 division and deputy chiefs at headquarters, none of whom, the councillor say know about the investigation.

The Remington's operation also threatens the gains police have made in community policing. The Church-Wellesley foot patrol and the neighbourhood liaison committee are the pride of the force's move to community policing, and the Remington's raid threatens to confirm views of skeptics that it's more PR than practice, that while the community can offer their input the police will end up doing what they want.

Talk first

Peter Bochove, owner of the Spa on Maitland bath, says if the police are committed to community policing, then when there are concerns about activities in gay establishments, they should first talk to the owners instead of staging a surprise swoop.

"My view is that we are consenting adults. When you're talking about sperm attack, it's pretty clear what that is. Was anyone being harmed? People are paying money to see what they saw."

George Pratt, owner of Remington's, says the police have never brought any concerns to his attention.

Contacted Tuesday afternoon, superintendent James Parkin, unit commander at 52 division, confirmed that he had no prior warning about the raid. While he declined to criticize the Remington's raid, Parkin said, "As far as community-based policing, if our officers are aware of problems and they have an ongoing relation with the community they can work with the community rather than going through an expensive criminal process."

Parkin says no one has brought any concerns about Remington's to his attention. "I'm getting no complaints out of that community or from Kyle Rae about (the club)."

Meanwhile, Metro councillor Jack Layton -- an old friend of the gay community -- gamely tries to stick up for the community following the raid, but some of his friends are seething with fury.

Anti-sex crusade

They worried when he undertook a crusade last year against lap dancing in the straight clubs, warning him it might rebound in unexpected ways and threaten sexual freedoms of gays as well as straights. But he went ahead. And, unlike some of his efforts on behalf of social justice and environmental concerns, Layton's move to ban lap dancing was wildly successful, fetching overwhelming votes in favour at Metro and city councils.

Stripper Katharine Goldberg -- who lost her job when she balked at rubbing her body in the laps of male patrons -- became a protege of Layton, who taught her how to organize. When the court of appeal heard an appeal of a lower court decision saying lap dancing was OK, Goldberg was there with official intervenor status.

For his part, Layton says the police have no business applying the law against lap dancing against Remington's.

"What was behind it (the move against lap dancing) was the question of unwanted touching, and women's groups and others were very strongly in favour of our taking action on that.

"It would be a complete and utter distortion to try and claim that this is somehow relevant to the Remington's case."

But his old ally, Goldberg, says the law's the law.

"They can't have one law for men, one law for women, one law for gays. The law has to apply to the community as a whole."

Alas, Jack Layton, the perils of morality politics.

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Created: March 6, 1996
Last modified: August 26, 1997

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