Bathhouse Enquiry
21 June 2004

(Toronto, Ontario)  A public inquiry has been called to examine the way Toronto police officers behaved during a raid four years ago at a lesbian night in a gay bathhouse.

Police entered the Club Toronto in the early hours of Sept. 15, 2000 during a lesbian event known as the "Pussy Palace." More than 100 women, many of whom were naked, were in the building at the time. The male officers spent 90 minutes walking through the facility in Toronto's gay village, opening doors to private cubicles and questioning the women.

At the time police insisted the raid was a routine liquor licence inspection and claimed they gave the women an opportunity to dress.

Two women, who had obtained a special occasion permit under the Ontario Liquor Licence Act, were charged with several offences, including permitting disorderly conduct and serving alcohol after hours. They were later acquitted of these charges.

In delivering his verdict, Mr. Justice Peter Hryn of the Ontario Court of Justice was critical of the police conduct. Hryn said the officers' entry into the club was comparable to a strip search, calling it "outrageous, flagrant, deliberate, unjustified and a violation of the women's constitutional rights".

The raid prompted a series of demonstrations against the police department, and a public outcry from city Councillor Kyle Rae.

Officers involved in the raid sued Rae for comments he made. While instructing the jury on the law before their deliberations, Madam Justice Jean MacFarland said, "Make no mistake here ladies and gentlemen, nothing you heard described justifies the conduct of these police officers that night."

Nevertheless the jury awarded the officers $170,000 for defamation.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission has now ordered a public inquiry into the raid. A preliminary report to the commission accused the police of discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation.

While the officers denied that they discriminated against the women, neither the Police Services Board nor Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino responded to the Human Rights Commission complaint.

"It's really disappointing that, for the three years after the complaint was filed, the chief and police services board didn't see fit to respond," said Frank Addario, a lawyer representing the committee, which organized the event.

The inquiry will now examine the events leading up to the raid, including why only male officers were involved.

by Jan Prout News Centre Toronto Bureau ©® 2004