Last edited: February 16, 2005

Bathhouse ‘Visit’ a Message—But From Whom?

Toronto Star, September 21, 2000
Ontario Canada

By Slinger

Metropolitan United Church throws a cocktail party in the church basement for retired moderators of the United Church of Canada. Five plainclothes Toronto cops sashay in and start asking pointed questions.

It’s hardly likely any guests would holler "It’s a raid!" but why would the police roust the joint?

1) If the church wants to lash the sherry around, it needs a special occasion permit from the liquor authorities, and the police "routinely" checks to see everything complies with these permits. 2) Maybe they "received a complaint." Maybe from an "anonymous" tipster. 3) They might have reasons they don’t care to divulge, but it doesn’t matter, the first two give them all the excuses they need.

Last Friday, an hour or so after midnight, at least five male officers in plainclothes rousted 300 lesbians attending a party at a bathhouse called Club Toronto. Justifications for the raid vary; different senior officers have offered both No. 1 and No. 2. But since there hasn’t been a bathhouse raid in 20 years, No. 3 begins to sound like an intriguing possibility.

Especially when you consider that they were disrupting a major homosexual fandango two days before a meeting at which that "community" was to form a liaison committee with the police, something the police department itself had initiated to keep exactly this sort of mess from boiling up, and boiling over.

It looks as if the raid was a message. But who was sending it, and who was supposed to receive it?

It could be it was entirely the work of "cowboys," or "renegades," as police spin-doctors spun things, and that headquarters had no idea what was going on.

It could be. But what do you suppose the cowboys thought they would get out of it? Grief, or pats on the head?

Julian Fantino arrived with a reputation for bungling relations with gays and lesbians in his previous job, as chief in London. He has gone to extraordinary lengths to open diplomatic channels in Toronto, even hosting a boozy reception to kick off Pride Week.

But maintaining diplomatic relations with his own troops is the first order of business, and it would be a dim chief who didn’t realize that a great many of his subordinates aren’t enthusiastic about getting kissy-kissy with queers.

Cops down the line have a fair amount of autonomy. No senior officer necessarily has to say, "Harass those fag chicks." But the ranks may sense vibes, as if from on high, that harassing fag chicks would not be entirely frowned on. That, despite the public love-feast, it wouldn’t hurt to remind the fag chicks, and every other kind of fag, and the public at large, and, most important, the rest of the cops in the department, that perverts can’t expect special treatment.

On the other hand, it could be the message was sent up the line.

The old-guard, old-boy, white, hetero cops would like to take this opportunity to remind the chief not to push his luck.

Even more than they don’t like homos, they don’t like the feeling that policing in Toronto is all about Julian Fantino. And Fantino’s sensational gift for self-promotion, and the way the media spread his words and photo-ops like jam, can easily leave the ranks with the feeling that their only job is to make him look good.

So anything as apparently cynical as a crusade to become the chief who turned Toronto into one big ever-loving family naturally invites sand in its gearbox.

If the chief had earned any credit in the gay community, and among mushy liberals, the cowboys blasted it to smithereens.

Bringing us to hats. It’s almost impossible to find a cop on the street wearing the official-issue uniform cap. Instead, it’s baseball caps. In the gush of interviews he gave before becoming chief, Fantino said he’d put an end to that. Just watch him.

When Fantino arrived, it was widely assumed that he and the head of the police union, Craig Bromell, were made for each other. This magazine described the chief as being against letting civilians investigate police misdeeds, "and a union boss’s dream." Except, when you put two bulls in a field there’s only one thing they want to establish.

Baseball caps are powerfully symbolic. A few years back, denied the right to strike or even work to rule, cops wore them to flip management the finger.

If Bromell put the word around that baseball caps were out of line, how long would it take for every last one to disappear?

It’s possible the vibes that made the lesbian bathhouse raid seem like a terrific idea came, not from police command, but from the police union, whose boss, the would-be Operation True Blue freebooter, hasn’t forgotten that it was Fantino who put the official kibosh on his plan to take over the world.

  • Slinger’s column usually appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

[Home] [Editorials] [Canada]