Toronto
4 min

Charged for bathhouse sex

Hamilton cops go after gay businesses, play dumb

FATAL BLOW? Not only are two men charged with committing indecent acts for allegedly having sex in a gay bathhouse - co-owner Jamie Bursey's business the Warehouse has been crippled. Credit: Joshua Meles

Police who laid charges against two patrons of Hamilton’s Warehouse Spa And Bath during a nine-person investigation of the bathhouse on Aug 3 have admitted they initiated the raid after reading comments on a gay cruising website – even though Deputy Chief Tom Marlor had earlier told a public meeting, “To be quite honest I did not know this was a bathhouse.”



This double-speak and backtracking has characterized the Hamilton Police Service’s messaging about the raid; they seem to be scrambling in the wake of the queer community’s outrage. There have been three public meetings in Steeltown since Aug 3. Toronto bathhouse owners are planning to band together to support the Warehouse and lobby the government to change the laws that led to the indecent-acts charges.



Hamilton police say it’s simple. The city’s Multi-Agency Task Force (MATF), a team of nine officials – including three police officers, two health inspectors, two city by-law officials and two fire inspectors – visited the Warehouse to investigate hygiene and by-law issues. When investigating officers allegedly saw sexual conduct between two patrons in the bathhouse’s porn room, they arrested them. Police have not released their names and neither have come forward with their version of the events. Staff say police shoved the men against the wall and shoved their faces into the wall when they tried to talk.



“We found some violations and we found a criminal offence,” says Marlor. “It doesn’t matter if [the establishment] is gay or heterosexual.”



That statement rings hollow, considering that, of the 14 businesses visited that night by the MATF, three were gay. The other two were Show World, a peepshow known as a cruising spot for gay and bisexual men, and The Windsor bar. Hamilton has fewer than 10 queer-oriented businesses. The day after the raid, media spokesperson Sgt Glenn Bullock told Xtra that the Warehouse was the only gay establishment on the list.



Police have also admitted to using the cruising website Squirt.org to gather information about the Warehouse. Most postings on Squirt.org are about sexual activity, not possible by-law infractions. (Squirt.org is operated by Pink Triangle Press, which also owns Xtra.) At 4:54pm Aug 3, a comment was posted, “Went to the Warehouse Saturday and only half the hydro was working, and a lot of the furniture/pool table, etc was moved out. The hot tub was drained as well.” Less than three hours later, police were handcuffing patrons.



Judy Downey, the city’s coordinator of Standards And Licensing says she can’t disclose the nature of the complaints, but did confirm that more than one complaint was received about the Warehouse before the MATF raid.



But activists say that’s no excuse for barging into a gay sex space and arresting people for consensual acts.



“The gay community is generally suspicious of encroachment into our spaces,” says Joe Adams, chair of Hamilton Pride. “While our community cannot use this history as an excuse to break the law, the MATF has a responsibility to understand the unique needs of the communities it will enter.”



And was there even any sex that night among the four or five customers present? Jamie Bursey, co-owner of the Warehouse, says an anonymous witness reports that the two arrested men were standing, clothed in towels, having a chat when the police entered the porn room.



“One of the customers had been here for less than three minutes,” says Bursey. “If you can get your clothes off, locked in your locker, and be engaged in a sexual act in less than three minutes, then goddamn it you’re good.”



The Warehouse, one of two Hamilton bathhouses, has operated for five years and has a clientele of mostly closeted men.



The MATF was formed in May 2000 with the intention of bringing together city by-law officers, fire officials, public health inspectors, provincial alcohol and gaming officers and police in order to investigate problem establishments.



Between January 2003 and March 2004 they visited nine crack houses, 46 massage parlours and 168 licensed premises. On Aug 3, they found 91 infractions and laid three criminal charges; that third charge is not believed to be related to a gay business.



In a statement to the advisory committee, Warehouse staff state that female police officers and inspectors saw the male patrons in various states of undress. “The female officers had gone to the locker room and got the patrons their clothes. They started dressing the handcuffed men. The patrons had to remove their towels in order to get dressed.”



Members of the MATF dispute this claim. Actually, even the word “raid” is under debate with police insisting that “investigations” or “visits” is more accurate terminology.



“I call it a raiding party. I’ve been raided before by this task force. They’ve raided a number of establishments in Hamilton,” says Damien Dommer, co-owner of The Werx bar in the downtown core. “What is the purpose of en masse raids in the City Of Hamilton?”



Sky Gilbert, Hamilton resident, playwright and a member of the GLBT Advisory Committee, is furious that the police are monitoring Squirt.org.



“Here is the gay community policing themselves, setting up a website where people can talk about problems with cruising places. This indicates goodwill on the part of the community,” Gilbert told Chief Brian Mullan at a meeting organized by the GLBT Police Task Force. “This shouldn’t cause a raid, but should cause you to contact the bathhouse.”



Though the Criminal Code charges against the two patrons are the most serious – a conviction results in a criminal record and can bring jail time – Bursey was also charged with three fire regulation violations, five city licensing and standard violations, and two provincial health violations for smoking infractions.



One of the violations is for serving food.



“Public Health didn’t have the Warehouse on its books and now we find out they’re selling food without a licence,” says Stanley Yung, manager of the Health Protection Branch the city.



“We have a vender’s permit,” says Bursey. “We sell chips and chocolate bars, that’s the only food in the building. Oh, and Hot Rods but I don’t know if that constitutes food or not.”



Bursey says since the raid his business is at 10 percent of usual capacity, and he’s now looking for a lawyer to sue the police and the city.



* Plans are in the works for campaigns to support the Warehouse; check out Xtra.ca and the next issue of Xtra for more information.