3 min

Bathhouse on trial

Goliath's 'found-ins' and 'keepers' make first court appearance

Credit: Shelagh Anderson

Even the bitter cold couldn’t keep Allan Oen away from the Calgary courthouse on Jan 23.

The Texas Lounge bartender braved minus 21 degrees to join about 30 other white-towel-waving men on the steps of Alberta’s provincial courthouse. They gathered to protest the recent gay bathhouse raid and to support the arrested men making their first appearance inside.

“It was cold but it was worth it,” Oen says. “You’ve got to get out there and support the community.”

Oen says he still can’t believe police raided Goliath’s Sauna at all. “It’s just so 1980s. You think [society] has come so far in understanding the gay community and then something like this happens and you’re back to square one.”

What’s next? he asks. Will Calgary police start cracking down on gay men having sex in their living rooms, too?

Inside the courtroom, the atmosphere was tense, says Terry Haldane, one of 13 men now facing “found-in” charges as a result of the raid.

Police also arrested two employees in their Dec 12 raid and charged them with the more serious offence of “keeping” a common bawdy house. They later charged Goliath’s two owners, manager and a third staff member as keepers.

All six men could face up to two years in prison. All pleaded not guilty Jan 23, before promptly returning to the bathhouse to officially re-open it and host a defiant, jubilant celebration.

Keith Purdy, who co-chairs Calgary Pride, says the steady flow of customers did not let up all weekend. The raid doesn’t seem to have deterred too many people, he notes.

Back at the courthouse, the found-ins anxiously checked the docket outside the courtroom to see if their names were on it. They weren’t, but they were read out in court and it remains to be seen which media outlets, if any, will publish them. So far, none have-much to the community’s relief.

Almost all of the found-ins entered the equivalent of guilty pleas in order to access the court’s alternative measures program and drop off the public radar as quickly as possible.

That means they now have to report to a probation officer and complete whatever requirements the officer sets out, which could include paying a fine, making a charitable donation, writing an essay or doing community work. If the men complete their projects, the court will withdraw the charges so they won’t be left with a criminal record.

But in order to enter the alternative measures program, the found-ins had to first sign a form “accepting responsibility” for their criminal actions.

Haldane says he’s not about to sign that form. “I’ve done nothing wrong here,” he says. “I don’t think I have to live by other people’s standards [of what is and is not indecent.]

“I don’t consider anything that I do indecent at all.”

Haldane and one other found-in decided to reserve their pleas on Jan 23 because the Crown failed to disclose its case ahead of time to the defence. The men now face yet another month-long wait before they go back to court on Feb 28 to enter their next round of pleas.

For Haldane, that will be a resounding “not guilty.”

Still, he isn’t looking forward to another month of sleepless nights in anticipation of his next court date.

Neither is his partner, Calgary activist Stephen Lock. But someone has to fight these charges, Lock says.

Lock wants the case to go all the way to the Supreme Court Of Canada so it can finally strike the bawdy house section from the Criminal Code.

“The whole idea that morality should be in the Criminal Code-that’s not right,” Lock says. “The Criminal Code should be dealing with public safety.”

Gay sex is not a threat to public safety, he adds.

The bawdy house laws are out-dated, he continues. “Bawdy house [laws] were brought in in 1907 as an attempt to stem the real or perceived proliferation of whore houses and quite likely in response to the purity campaigns going on at that time,” Lock explains. “They’ve been left untouched since Victorian days.”

Haldane’s lawyer, Peter Hoare, agrees. The bawdy house section of the Criminal Code is out-dated and should be struck, he says.

The code defines a bawdy house as a place where prostitution and/or indecent acts occur. Since police are not alleging any prostitution took place at Goliath’s, they must think gay sex is indecent, Hoare says.

“If the police view is that our Calgary community in this millennium regards consensual homosexuality in a bathhouse as indecent, then we respectfully beg to differ,” he says.

Purdy begs to differ, as well. Who gets to set these standards of indecency? he asks.

The police should apply gay community standards in a gay bathhouse, Purdy says. Then they would find that there is nothing indecent about gay sex in a gay bathhouse.

Hoare says he might also add a Charter challenge to the case, on the basis of his client’s reasonable expectation of privacy, and his entitlement to control his own sex life, provided it’s consensual.