Police Make Secret Deal with Gay Bars
Toronto Officers Told to Ignore Graphic Sex Acts
August 10, 1999
300 - 1450 Don Mills Road, Don Mills, Ontario, M3B 3R5
By Christie Blatchford
The Toronto Police senior command has made a secret deal with owners of gay bars that
its officers will turn a blind eye to arguably illicit sex activity so long as it remains
behind closed doors.
And the agreement is apparently firm enough that Crown lawyers believe it might give
anyone charged with sex offences in a gay bar a possible defence and preclude any chance
of conviction, the National Post has learned.
The controversial arrangement has come to light in the wake of a sheaf of arrests made
earlier this summer at one of the bars, the Bijou, which bills itself as
"Canadas only hard-core porn bar", and in the panic those arrests have
unleashed within the force and the gay community both.
It has also prompted an internal police debate about what constitutes "community
policing" and whether that should mean, as one of the senior officers defending the
deal puts it, that a "community (such as the gay community) decides how it wants to
be policed" and that the tone of law enforcement should flow from that starting
In the five weeks since the charges were laid, as segments of the citys
well-organized gay community rallied to defend itself from what is perceived as a renewed
attack upon private consensual sex, there has been a series of urgent meetings as senior
officers have scrambled to have the charges dropped.
On three of five visits made to the Bijou between June 13 and July 1 this year, one of
two plainclothes squads operating out of the downtown 52 Division tasked with policing the
so-called "gay ghetto" in the city centre laid a raft of liquor licence charges
against the bar and 19 criminal code charges, all but one of them alleging indecent acts.
The Bijou is best known for its "slurp ramp," as flyers advertising it in
recent years have boasted.
This is the term for what happens in a doorless large room on a stage, on which is
erected a fence of plywood punched with round holes, where on a busy night, customers line
up for the chance to put their penises in the holes and receive anonymous oral sex.
Pictures taken at the bar apparently show the walls slippery with ejaculate, the floor
littered with condoms.
The plainclothes officers first went to the bar, sources say, as part of a routine
inspection to check if liquor laws were being enforced.
But when their initial low-key approach to speak to the Bijou owner got no response,
and when the squad was repeatedly greeted by the sight of men masturbating openly at
tables, one or two with their penises in the "slurp ramp" holes receiving oral
sex, and, allegedly, though no charges were laid in connection with this incident because
the participants fled, at least one couple having anal sex, they began laying indecent act
These frontline officers were unaware, sources say, of any special agreement brokered
by their superiors under which they shouldnt charge patrons criminally if they were
having sex in public.
They have since learned better.
Since then, in a quiet way typical of a police department dealing with a public
relations disaster involving a sophisticated and media-savvy community, all hell has
In short order, Post sources say, the detective in charge of the squad was called at
home, where he was on holidays, and asked to withdraw the charges by his boss,
Staff-Inspector Dan Hutt; other members of the squad apparently have been urged to use
their "discretion" and not lay any such charges against patrons of gay bars in
future. And the Toronto Police Association -- the police union -- has received complaints
from squad members who fear for their careers and who are outraged by the special deal.
The Post has learned that after squad boss Det. Dave Wilson refused to drop the
charges, his unit commander, Superintendent Aiden Maher, in an unusual if not
unprecedented move, called on Torontos senior Crown attorney, Paul Culver, last week
to formally ask him to withdraw them.
Supt. Maher is on vacation and was unavailable for comment yesterday, but Mr. Culver
confirmed the meeting and the request, and said he hasnt yet decided what to do.
But the Post has learned that the criminal charges may well be dropped because the
existence of the deal would offer the charged patrons an out, and make virtually
impossible a prosecution which was already difficult because of the changing legal
definitions of what constitutes a "public" place.
The deal was apparently struck after a 1996 police raid by the forces morality
squad on another gay bar.
Downtown city councillor Kyle Rae, an openly gay municipal politician who often speaks
for the gay community, yesterday remembered discussions involving the then-boss of 52
Division, Superintendent Jim Parkin.
Mr. Rae noted that while the gay community is itself divided on the issue of public
sex, it carries a real history because of the way, especially years ago, that gay men were
closeted. Anonymous sex, in such places as parks and bathhouses and now bars, was the
traditional only resort for those too fearful to live as open homosexuals.
But Supt. Parkin, now in charge of 31 Division, while acknowledging yesterday that
while he certainly told his officers "not to look for trouble" in gay bars and
that it was essentially agreed the police wouldnt press charges for sex acts that
were conducted in private areas of a bar, they made no such promise if the acts were
conducted in public areas.
"Absolutely not," he said in a telephone interview yesterday. "I
wouldnt do that (make that promise)."
But when Supt. Parkin left 52 Division about a year ago, the agreement apparently began
to be interpreted more broadly.
Yesterday, St.-Insp. Hutt defended both the request to have the criminal charges
against the patrons dropped and the larger policy which calls for officers to look the
other way which he said has been in existence for years.
"Its worked well," St.-Insp. Hutt told the Post, "and I still
think its a pretty fair deal."
St.-Insp. Hutt agreed that the sex acts for which the Bijou patrons were charged were
conducted in public areas of the bar -- and thus were arguably against the law -- and
defended his squads visits to the club and their right to enforce liquor laws, but
said the officers who laid the criminal charges took the wrong approach.
"We charge the owners of the clubs (under liquor licensing provisions)," he
said. "We dont prosecute the patrons (criminally). We charge bar owners;
theyre the ones making money on it." Bar enforcement, he said, is a question of
which tool to use -- the liquor licence laws, violation of which can see a bar lose its
license, or the Criminal Code, which St.- Insp. Hutt said accomplishes little.
St.-Insp. Hutt, who said he didnt know what "a slurp ramp" was, told
the Post this sort of policing, where a segment of the population decides "how they
want to be policed," is community policing at its best.
He said that the gay community "views certain acts and behavior differently than
the rest of the community", and that police should respond to that.
But other senior officers say that is "stretching" and arguably distorting
the definition of community policing, and question whether it was proper for Supt. Maher
to ask the Crown attorney to drop the criminal charges.
Sources say the plainclothes officers themselves are furious at the actions of
St.-Insp. Hutt and Supt. Maher, and that they see this as a "thin edge of the
wedge." The officers say heterosexual bars offering equivalent sex acts would be
Other officers are more worried at the erosion of the line separating police and their
"Its like the separation between church and state," one said.
"Its the wrong message, to have the unit commander going down to pull strings,
or that these guys (patrons) are untouchable. There should be one law for everybody. If
you dont like the law, change it, but there shouldnt be any special
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