Last edited: November 06, 2004

Charges Dropped in Lesbian Baths Raid, February 1, 2002

By Jan Prout

SUMMARY: A Toronto judge spent two hours Thursday criticizing Toronto police for violating the rights of women during a raid on a lesbian bathhouse.

TORONTO—A Toronto judge spent two hours Thursday criticizing Toronto police for violating the rights of women during a raid on a lesbian bathhouse.

Justice Peter Hryn dismissed the charges against Jill Hornick and Rachel Aitcheson, the organizers of the Pussy Palace event, saying the police had put "the administration of justice in disrepute."

As he rendered his decision in a tiny downtown courtroom, a dozen supporters of the women burst into cheers and applause.

Five male Toronto police officers entered the Club Toronto baths on Sept. 14, 2000, saying they were acting on a complaint that illegal activity was going on.

For more than an hour the male officers went through the five-story building, despite the fact the women were in various states of undress. Many of them were naked.

Two undercover female officers had been in the building prior to the raid but left when the male uniformed officers arrived.

In the end, no charges were laid. But, after a public outcry about the male officers roaming through the hallways gawking at the women, police laid two minor liquor charges against Hornick and Aitcheson.

Justice Hryn said the women had a "reasonable expectation of privacy." He likened the situation to a male officer conducting a strip search on a woman.

"The search was carried out in an unreasonable manner," Hryn said.

"There was no reason why male rather than female officers were used. ... I find the breach to be serious. It was flagrant and outrageous. The charter violations would shock the conscience of the public," Hryn said in his decision.

Speaking to reporters outside the court, the lawyer for the Women’s Bathhouse Committee, Frank Addario, said, "Given that this was an all-women event and given that it was a highly sexualized environment, it demanded the use of female police officers."

Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects people from unreasonable searches, including physical searches by opposite-sex police officers.

"We feel quite vindicated in this judgment," said Loralee Gillis of the Women’s Bath House Committee, which organized the event.

"Hopefully this won’t happen again. That’s our hope."

The women have been left with legal bills totaling more than $60,000. They have raised about half that amount through fundraising events. The next is March 26 at Byzantium in the heart of Toronto’s gay village.

Constable Judy Nosworthy, the liaison officer to the GLBT community said Thursday night: "Now that the court decision has been made, it is time for the community and the police to begin the healing process."

Nosworthy said: "The GLBT Community Consultative Committee (a group made up of members of the gay community and the police department) has been preparing for this moment and is ready to assist in directing the police service towards a better understanding of our community from the inside out."

A complaint against the police is still to be heard by Ontario’s Human Rights Commission.

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