5 min

Bathhouse trial on hold

Police disclosure problem delays testimony

Credit: Robin Perelle

CALGARY-The Goliath’s bathhouse trial slammed to a temporary stop last week when the prosecutor revealed he still hasn’t gotten full disclosure from the police.

Police took the prosecutor by surprise just days before the trial was set to begin by abruptly announcing they may have more information about the bathhouse raid than they originally let on.

The sudden announcement led some gay observers to suspect police of deliberately launching a last-minute attempt to bolster their case-and justify their raid against Calgary’s only gay bathhouse.

Police made the extra-information announcement immediately after hearing about the defence’s plan to challenge their procedures in the raid.

Calgary’s vice squad made headlines Dec 12, 2002, when at least 20 officers raided Goliath’s Sauna and arrested everyone they could find inside. They later charged 13 men with being found in a common bawdyhouse and six men with keeping a common bawdyhouse.

The accused keepers were supposed to begin their trial Mon, Nov 17-but they didn’t get very far.

Just an hour into day one-as the defence was beginning to outline its challenges to police procedures surrounding the raid-Crown prosecutor David Torske asked the judge for an extra day to find out what additional information police may have had. The judge agreed and adjourned the trial until the next morning.

But Torske came back to court empty handed on Tuesday. He couldn’t find out exactly what extra information police may have had prior to launching their investigation. The officer who allegedly has the extra information was at a week-long police conference in San Francisco and didn’t answer her phone.

Faced with the possibility of incomplete facts from the police, Torske said he had no choice but to ask for more time. “There appears to be further evidence,” he told the court. “What it is, I don’t know.”

But under the circumstances, it would be irresponsible for the Crown to begin presenting evidence, Torske argued. To start calling witnesses without full knowledge of the facts could result in a mistrial.

Judge Terence Semenuk quickly agreed. He adjourned the case until Dec 2.

Outside the courtroom, the keepers’ lawyer was reluctant to call the officers’ last-minute announcement of more information a stalling tactic. Disclosure problems are not unusual, John Bascom pointed out.

Still, he said, he and his clients are “anxious to proceed”-especially since the extra information doesn’t seem relevant to the decision to launch the investigation in the first place, since lead investigators apparently only found out it existed just days before the trial.

What is relevant is that the original decision to launch the investigation lacked foundation, Bascom told the court. “I think their investigation was fairly thin.”

Police originally said they went undercover into Goliath’s after receiving two tips, one in May 2002 and another in September. Bascom says those tips did not justify sending undercover cops into a gay bathhouse.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives Canadians the right to be left alone unless police have a truly legitimate reason to investigate, Bascom told the court. Police had no such reason in this case, he added.

Bascom is seeking to quash the search warrant police obtained as a result of their undercover operation. He also wants to exclude any evidence police may have collected during the warrant’s execution. If he succeeds, the Crown may be left with little or no evidence against the accused keepers. (If, however, the judge upholds the police evidence, Bascom will likely argue that gay bathhouse sex is not actually indecent-meaning that Goliath’s isn’t a bawdyhouse anyway.)

But before Bascom can begin to challenge police procedures or perspectives in this case, he and his clients will have to endure another two-week delay at least. And delays are always difficult for defendants to endure, Bascom told Xtra West outside the courtroom.

News of the delay sparked anger in Calgary’s gay community.

Keith Purdy attended court both days to keep a close eye on the proceedings. He thinks police are deliberately looking for any information they can find to strengthen their case and justify their actions, now that they see they’re being challenged.

“It seems to me they’re trying to find whatever little things [they can] to bolster their case now, because they realize their case is so flimsy,” speculates the former Calgary Pride co-chair.

Stephen Lock has also been watching the trial very carefully. His partner, Terry Haldane, is facing a separate charge of being found in a common bawdyhouse as a result of the raid and is expected to go to trial sometime next year.

Lock says the police probably didn’t expect the gay community to fight back and challenge their procedures. Maybe the police just thought this would be an easy conviction, he muses.

Still, he says, he’s really reluctant to think the police are now deliberately trying to delay the trial to find more information to bolster their decisions.

Purdy is not so reluctant. He thinks the police are just scrambling to justify their actions in the face of mounting pressure from the defence.

The head of Calgary’s vice unit concedes that police only found out about the additional information because the defence challenged their procedures. But Staff Sergeant Joe Houben denies that police are trying to use the information to bolster their case.

First of all, he says, the vice squad doesn’t need to bolster its case because its decision to launch the Goliath’s investigation was totally justifiable.

Secondly, the decision to launch the investigation was apparently made before the lead detective even knew that any additional information existed, Houben continues. So that information wouldn’t strengthen the decision anyway-if, indeed, it needed strengthening, which it does not.

Houben says the lead investigator on the case only found out about the additional information when the Crown told him about the defence’s plan to challenge police procedures.

That’s when Det Cam Brooks re-interviewed all his officers to make sure he had all the information pertinent to the case, the court heard on Tuesday. And that’s when Det Nina Vaughan mentioned that she had not only received one of the two tips-she also had some additional information.

Then Vaughan left town, without specifying what her additional information may be.

Houben suspects it’s not pertinent to the case, anyway. “It was never an issue before and it didn’t further the investigation at the time,” he told Xtra West in a phone interview. Vaughan “played a very, very minor role in the whole file.”

However relevant Vaughan’s additional information may be, the accused keepers’ trial is now on hold for at least two weeks until the Crown can sort it all out.

In the meantime, Goliath’s owner, Darrell Zakreski, and his employees, Lonnie Nomeland, Peter Jackson and Gerald Rider, are still facing one count each of keeping a common bawdyhouse. (As for the remaining two men charged as keepers, the Crown stayed its charge against one man in March when it realized he had sold his share in Goliath’s prior to the raid, and allowed another to take the alternative measures route three weeks ago. See related story page 9.)

Zakreski and his employees left the courtroom without comment on Nov 18, after the judge announced the adjournment.

They will be back in court Dec 2, most likely to set a new date for their trial.