Vancouver
3 min

Be discreet

No arrests-if making out kept from police eyes

SUBTLETY WINS FRIENDS: Washroom sex and park sex is a very low priority for Vancouver police, if people stay out of view. Credit: Robin Perelle

The rumours began more than a month ago. Plainclothes officers are patrolling a certain cruising washroom in the West End, people muttered, and they’re looking to press charges.



Xtra West traced the rumour to Squirt, Pink Triangle Press’ online cruising site. But there, the trail ran cold. One message posted in February warned people to stay away from the washroom in question, but it generated no responses. People kept posting reviews and invitations; no one got arrested.



And it’s unlikely that anyone will, says Insp Dave Jones, the Vancouver Police Department’s (VPD) top cop in the West End. Because it’s just a rumour. There have been no arrests.



Police may have received a complaint, he concedes, but there was no incident and no one got arrested.



The VPD does not have an open file on any gay sex in the West End, including Stanley Park, Jones continues. There are no impending raids, either. “To my knowledge, there’s no plan to do anything like this.”



There hasn’t been a charge for public sex in a Vancouver washroom in about 20 years, he adds.



Still, Jones admits that police would investigate a gay cruising spot if they received a complaint. It would be a low priority, he says, but police would have no choice but to check it out.



“If somebody calls and complains, we’re duty-bound to investigate,” he explains. “If you do these things in public, you run a risk.”



That’s true, confirms VPD Chief Constable Jamie Graham. If police receive a citizen complaint, they have to investigate. Officers have a duty to respond “to breaches of the law. We don’t pick and choose” which laws to enforce.



“The overriding issue is the law,” Graham says. “That guides our behaviour.”



That’s why Jones urges people having sex in public washrooms, or on the trails in Stanley Park, to use discretion. Don’t get caught by being blatant and no one will complain to the police, he says. And if someone does complain, don’t be there when the police show up. Then the officers won’t have to investigate any consensual adult sex-gay or straight.



“Consensual gay sex done in private is not an issue for us,” he notes.



And if police do catch, say, a group of men having sex in a washroom? “We would probably do something about it,” Jones replies.



In other words, the officers could charge anyone they catch in the act. That doesn’t mean they necessarily would charge them, but they could.



It’s a truce that Jim Deva, of Little Sister’s fame, says he can live with. An avid trail user himself, Deva agrees that discretion is the key to peaceful co-existence.



Park sex and washroom sex is “a reality of gay culture,” he says. And as long as it’s done discreetly, it doesn’t interfere with anybody else’s freedoms.



But if people are stupid enough to have sex in the middle of the trails, or in the open in a public washroom in the middle of the day, then they deserve to get charged, he says. Kids should not have to walk in on people having sex; that’s inappropriate.



But Deva doesn’t think that’s happening. “You have to go out of your way to find sex happening,” he says, referring to the West End’s known cruising washrooms and trails.



Washroom sex, in particular, is governed by its own special etiquette based on discreet signals. “Discretion is the most important part of it.”



That means police officers would have to go out of their way to find gay men having public sex, Deva says. And that sets off alarm bells for him.



He hasn’t forgotten the old days, when officers regularly used entrapment to arrest gay men cruising. In 1975 alone, the VPD reportedly arrested about 100 people around English Bay.



According to Gay Tide, the now-defunct Gay Alliance Toward Equality (GATE) newspaper, undercover officers used to hang around the fourth floor of the English Bay beach house, waiting to catch gay men having sex-and often inviting them to have sex just so they could arrest them when they agreed.



Times have changed, but the gay community is still vulnerable today, Deva says. Homophobic people could easily call the police and complain about gay sex in known cruising spots, whether they are personally affected or not. And that could lead to officers showing up to investigate.



Whether or not they would resurrect their old entrapment techniques is a different matter, he concedes. He doubts the VPD would try to entrap gay men having sex in the West End today. “But I will scream to high heaven” if they do, he says.



Jones maintains that there are no police operations underway targeting gay sex in Vancouver.



Graham suggests that if the gay community has concerns about the potential for public sex charges, it should lobby for changes to the Criminal Code. “And if I can be supportive affecting change, I will,” he adds.