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Battle to evict Nanaimo’s gay bar heats up

Private investigator alleges criminal and 'bizarre' behaviour

Mayfair Properties has stepped up its legal battle to drive Nanaimo’s only gay bar out of its current space, alleging all sorts of criminal and kinky behaviour.

Mayfair, which owns the Best Western Dorchester Hotel in which 70 Below is located, first sought to terminate the gay bar’s lease in April, alleging its owners failed to fill out an application essential to their liquor licence, thus compromising the hotel’s licence as well.

70 Below co-owner Dave Ashbach disputes that allegation. Liquor Control Board records indicate the bar’s licence is valid until next February. Its lease is valid until Mar 31, 2009.

Two months ago, Mayfair added more alleged infractions to its petition to prematurely terminate the bar’s lease.

Mayfair claims 70 Below has served alcohol to minors and intoxicated persons, served alcohol outside the specified times of its liquor license, and “conducted, condoned, or failed to stop” the consumption and sale of marijuana, and the consumption of cocaine, on the premises.

Mayfair also claims 70 Below has interfered in the operations of the Dorchester through “excessive and unreasonable” noise.

Public court documents show Mayfair hired private investigators George and Trudy Harding of Harding & Associates of North Vancouver to determine whether the bar was complying with liquor laws and if any illegal activity was going on.

In George Harding’s report, filed in BC Supreme Court Jun 19, he claims to have witnessed bar patrons “in a complete state of intoxication” smoking marijuana and drinking beer in view of passing pedestrians and staff. He includes a photocopied image of what he claims is a bud of marijuana purchased by Trudy Harding at the bar.

Harding also claims to have observed bar patrons snorting cocaine in the bathroom. “Being a former police drug officer I immediately recognized the substance from taste and appearance as being cocaine,” he writes. “And further confirmed such from viewing the female and male patrons using a straw and snorting the substance.”

Based on “information attained from a frequent club patron,” Harding further alleges that two staff members, including Ashbach, are cocaine addicts.

“They are willing to characterize me as a drug addict but they have not seen my face, met me in person or spoken to my friends,” says Ashbach. “Their information is third-hand bar gossip from some people who don’t know me.”

Ashbach says if he or another staff member had witnessed the Hardings purchasing drugs, they would have banned them from the bar.

“I do not dispute that people can get away with things under the table or in dark corners, but if we see someone selling or using drugs on-site we will ask them leave and ban them from the bar,” he says. “All I have from them is a photocopied image of something that could be a bud of marijuana.”

Included in Harding’s allegations of illegal drug use, is an incident he highlights as a “bizarre encounter,” described as a “male security guard wearing yellow security jacket sitting inside the club embracing and kissing male bartender.” The term “bizarre encounter” is listed in the same capitalized, underlined heading font which he uses for allegations of criminal activities.

“That was bizarre,” explains Harding. “You don’t normally see a person in uniform advertising his company doing that. I’m sure the company wouldn’t want them to be in the place to start with, a liquor licensing establishment. And then to carry on doing that… It’s private I think. It’s like the company wouldn’t want it advertised so everybody could see it, especially with the door wide open.”

Ashbach says that the two men are good friends and such a greeting is not unusual in a gay bar.

70 Below co-owner Patrick Edwards is puzzled by Harding’s description and wonders why two men kissing in a gay bar would warrant scrutiny.

“It does present an underlying phobia there,” Edwards alleges. “It’s not really that bizarre; it’s kind of ordinary in the culture we live in.”

Throughout the report, Harding also makes notes about Fetishabend, 70 Below’s fetish night, and includes two posters from the event.

“Restraint props were later determined to be a device where a female is secured with her head and hands through portholes with other patrons of the audience teasing her at will,” he writes.

Harding told Xtra West he mentioned Fetishabend in his report to inform the hotel owners of what was going on in the bar. “I don’t think the owners were aware of that. I don’t even know if they’ve ever been downstairs in the last couple of months,” he says. “Just outlining what goes on, so they can get an outline of business as usual kind of thing.”

Fetishabend co-planner Cory Keys stresses that people choose to participate in his events. “Some of the devices do indeed have restraints on them,” he says. “But nobody is allowed to force or pressure others into using these devices. We make it very clear that if anybody is trying to pressure or coerce other people into playing with them or taking photos without permission then they will be removed from the party.”

Edwards feels Harding’s report is an affront to 70 Below’s gay staff and patrons. “I don’t have the kind of money that Mayfair has to throw around to go seek out these behaviours in people,” he notes.

Mayfair vice-presidents Zach Bhatia and Johane Thibault declined to comment on Harding’s report.

But Lisa Voldeng, co-chair of BC’s Gay and Lesbian Business Association (GLBA), says Mayfair has been an exemplary supporter of the GLBA, whose office is located in Viva Tower, another Mayfair property.

“In our experience with dealing with them they have been extremely supportive of the GLBA, and in particular GLBA events,” Voldeng says. “It was actually another Mayfair property, the Best Western Downtown, that was one of the sponsors of our recent Red Dress Ball. We interact with people at Mayfair Properties quite regularly and have always found them to be exceptionally supportive.”