Last edited: November 06, 2004

Toronto Bath Women Charged

PlanetOut News, October 9, 2000

SUMMARY: As though the police "panty raid" hadn’t been bad enough, organizers of an annual women’s bath night are charged with violating their liquor license.

Toronto police have added insult to injury by laying liquor license violation charges against the organizers of the annual Women’s Bath House Night the department came under fire for raiding (see PlanetOut News of Sepbember 19). Liquor license violations are punishable by fines rather than jail time, and are directed only against the license holders, in this case two of the event organizers whose names appear on the special license application. Police said October 6 they are bringing six charges of failure to provide security, disorderly conduct and serving liquor outside licensed hours (although pubs can serve until 2 a.m., special permits are good only until 1 a.m.). Those charges will be hotly contested by the organizers’ attorney Frank Addario, who said he will argue that the police investigation violated the constitution’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Police Chief Julian Fantino, who had been making efforts to improve his relationship with the gay and lesbian community but had taken no action on the controversial bathhouse raid before taking a trip out of the country, can expect an earful on his return October 10. The bathhouse visit occurred just two days before a scheduled meeting to plan an advisory group to liaison between police and the lesbian and gay community.

A spokesperson for the Women’s Bathhouse Committee declared the group outraged once again by the charges as it had been by the original investigation of the September 14 - 15 event. In full knowledge that it was a women-only event where clothing was likely to be scant or absent, five male officers toured the building over the course of about an hour and a half (longer according to some reports), knocking on doors, interrogating many of the 300 participants, and taking names. Police may or may not have been responding to a complaint. Hundreds of Special Occasion Permits for liquor are issued for private events such as wedding parties and galas, few of which are ever visited by police.

Gay Toronto City Councilor Kyle Rae, who had earlier criticized the police visit to the bathhouse event as a "panty raid," said he was not surprised at the charges but was disappointed the police were not making better use of their resources when drug sales are rampant in the same area. Rae had received numerous calls from constituents shocked at this misplaced priority.

The community was already up in arms at the police intrusion into the annual bathhouse event. On September 28, organizers asked the Toronto Police Services Board why it took male officers — and so many of them over such a long time — to check out a liquor license, but they were told to wait for Fantino’s return for a response. They were also promised those portions of an internal review of the incident (which may or may not actually be taking place) that could be made public.

Later that night, women protesting the bathhouse incident formed a contingent in Toronto’s annual Take Back the Night anti-violence march. On September 21, perhaps 200 lesbians and gays marched on police headquarters in protest after a community meeting that raised about C$9,000 for legal defense against any charges that might be brought (see PlanetOut News of September 22). In addition, Toronto’s gay and lesbian newspaper Xtra! filed a complaint of its own that the police superintendent has failed to respond to its inquiries.

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