February 29, 1996

Colin Leslie

Cops bust gay strip bar

Charges echo those of bathhouse raids

A surprise raid on a gay-owned Yonge St. strip club has left 19 customers and dancers facing criminal charges.

More than 30 officers from 52 Division and the Special Investigations Service (SIS) -- formerly the Morality Squad -- hit Remington's at about 11 pm on Feb 19.

Dan Miktos, 26, and Jonathan Brittain, 24, were just exiting the club. "As we were leaving, officers came in and ripped [the doorman's] ear-phones off his head," said Miktos.

"They wouldn't let us leave," said Miktos. "They said, 'Get back in.'"

Inside the club on the first floor, Rocco, 35, visiting from Hamilton, said he wasn't sure what was going on. "My friend said to me: 'Is this part of the dance?' and I said, 'I don't know.'"

Officers turned up the lights and one took the microphone and told customers -- but not dancers -- to leave.

As Mondays are Sperm Attack night -- where dancers masturbate on stage -- the bar was packed and most of the estimated 150 customers left quickly.

George Pratt of Remington's, who arrived shortly after the raid began, said the police operation was very organized. " All the summonses were pre-typed." Pratt said the dancers were corralled and officers had Polaroid cameras and tables set up for interviews.

"They asked a whole bunch of questions," one dancer said. "If we're paid to work in the club? Who makes the schedule? If the customers touched you? If you touched the customers? If I'd observed any prostitution?"

In total, 19 men were charged.

  • Two managers and the disc jockey face three charges each: Keeping a common bawdy house, permitting the premises to be used as a common bawdy house, and permitting an indecent theatrical performance.

  • Ten dancers were charged with being an inmate and for an indecent theatrical performance.

  • Four customers were charged as found-ins in a common bawdy house (those patrons were in private cubicles with a dancer when the raid occurred).

The charged men were released, but are to appear in court room 111 at Old City Hall (Bay and Queen) at 9 am on Tue, Mar 12.

Only 12 of the 31 dancers working that night were charged and, as the case is now before the courts, police are coy about exactly some were charged and others weren't.

"There was no evidence against the dancers that weren't charged," says Inspector Paul Gottschalk, who heads the SIS. He says the raid was prompted by a complaint from the public and that undercover cops had been investigating the club for 10 weeks.

One dancer -- Pierce Vendetta, 23 -- was performing on the stage when the raid occurred and was not charged. But a customer and a 29-year-old dancer in one of the club's 20-odd private VIP rooms on the second floor, were charged.

Out on the street after the raid, many were angry.

"It's not fair. We're just doing the same thing that the women are doing [in straight strip clubs]," one dancer said.

"The big beef that everyone has here is: Why aren't you going down the street and hitting those bars?" said Miktos, pointing at the straight strip clubs down Yonge St. "This was the only bar [raided]. It's obviously a gay issue."

Not so, say police "This is not a gay issue," says Gottschalk, "This is a criminal investigation issue."

He says that a similar number of people were charged in two recent raids on straight strip joints. In December, police stormed the Jungle Club Tavern at Finch Ave W and Dufferin and, in January, the House of Lancaster Two in the Bloor and Bathurst streets area. However, one dancer suggested that the complaint may have come from another gay strip bar.

"The raid has also left some gay bathhouse owners wondering if they are next. At Remington's, police used the same bawdy-house charges that were used against gay men 15 years ago during the bathhouse raids.

Gottschalk met with gay City Councillor Kyle Rae and 15 members of the Gay Bathhouse and Bar Owners Association -- including Pratt and reps from The Cellar, The Spa on Maitland, Boots and others -- in a private three-hour meeting at city hall on Feb 20.

"The bar owners and bathhouse owners said... 'We're prepared to live within the law, but we don't know what the law is,'" Rae says.

Recent court rulings have flip-flopped over the legality of lap dancing, the Ward 6 councillor says. Rae says bar owners want to know why the police just didn't call Remington's and say there was a complaint.

But Gottschalk says things don't work that way: "It's not, we go to the door and say, 'We've heard there's stolen property here, you better not have it or we're going to be here,' No, it's incumbent on us to first investigate."

(In a recent report from the Metropolitan Licensing Commission, inspectors wrote that they did not see any instances of lap dancing at Remington's)

Gottschalk agrees that knowing what's legal in strip clubs may be unclear, "but the activities that happened in all [three of] these places is far beyond what the general public would consider indecent."

But Pratt says Remington's (which re-opened the day after the raid) has operated basically the same way since it opened in June 1993. "So what they've done is, they've moved the line."

Pratt says Remington's will fight the charges and that for now he has no plans to change how the club operates.

Gottschalk said the bawdy house laws are complex, but the charges are prostitution related. He would not rule out raids on bathhouses. But he says police are more concerned with prostitution than private individuals meeting for sex in a business establishment.

"As long as there's no exchange of money for sex... I've got no problem with that and I don't think the law does," he says. But bathhouse owners are at risk when prostitutes are using their facilities.

"If you notice that the same person kept coming back with different people, that, to me, would be a flag." Gottschalk says he told bathhouse owners at the Feb 20 meeting, "I'd be asking myself, hey, wait a minute."

Rae says the police budget is being misused. " I can't believe they've spent money on this kind of activity when... it's consenting adults. I can't get [the police] to clean up the crack dealers in Allan Gardens. Where's the panic in the community saying we need to clean this up? There isn't any."

Gottschalk says the operation didn't cost too much, "We see public concern and we try to apply the appropriate level of resources."

The Coalition To Reform The Bawdy House Act has recently been created. Members include the National Leather Association and Maggie's the prostitutes' rights lobby group.

"If you don't think this involves you, guess again," reads a pamphlet put out by the group. "Police are making arrests. Right now, private parties and fetish nights in Canada may qualify as "bawdy houses," according to the interpretation used by law agencies. No one is safe."

The Church/Wellesley Police Advisory Committee will hold an emergency meeting at 8 pm, Thu, Feb 29 at 519 Church.

More News on the Remington's Raid:

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More news about men in the sex trades...

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Created: November 13, 1996
Last modified: November 18, 1996

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