Last edited: June 20, 2004

Public Inquiry Ordered into Police Conduct at Lesbian Bath Raid, June 18, 2004

By Jan Prout, Newscenter, Toronto Bureau

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 naked, were in the building at the time. The officers, all male, 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 license inspection and claimed they gave the women an opportunity to dress.

Two women who had obtained a special occasion permit under the Ontario Liquor License Act were charged with several offences, including permitting disorderly conduct and serving alcohol after hours. On January Jan. 31, 2002 they were acquitted. 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 Councilor Kyle Rae, who is gay and represents the village.

Officers involved in the raid sued Rae for comments he made. While instructing them 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 Thursday 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 “Pussy Palace” event.

The inquiry will examine the events which led up to the raid, why only male officers participated, and the way women were treated once police entered the building.

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