Toronto City Council is looking into ways of shutting down a swingers club and a strip club located on Lake Shore Blvd W in Etobicoke. A motion calling on city staff and police to “act on the mechanisms available” was brought before council on Jun 24 by Mark Grimes, the councillor representing Ward 6 Etobicoke-Lakeshore.
The motion, which passed with 33 votes in favour and two opposed, targets the west-end swingers clubs Menage a Quatre and Hers Nightclub as well as the strip club Jay Jay’s Inn. According to its website Hers Nightclub has since closed for the summer and will reopen in a new location later this year.
Grimes says he was urged to act by area residents who are unhappy about the establishment of sex-oriented businesses in their neighbourhood.
“My residents are going wild and I don’t blame them,” Grimes told reporters after the decision. “They have every right to be upset…. You’ve got kids walking to school, kids walking to daycare. It’s on a main street.”
Grimes didn’t respond to Xtra’s request for an interview by press time, which Grimes’ executive assistant Sheila Paxton attributed to a “hectic schedule” that includes finishing up council business before a break for the rest of the summer. However Paxton says a review of city bylaws regarding the operations of the clubs in question is already underway.
In a letter to constituents explaining the motion Grimes wrote, “Lake Shore Blvd W has undergone tremendous changes in the last few years with young families moving into the area…. Recently the area has experienced a setback with the introduction of new nightclubs that are contrary to the residents, store owners and my image of the Lakeshore community.”
Paxton says that Kyle Rae — the openly gay councillor who represents Toronto Centre, which includes the Church-Wellesley village — was one of the two votes against the motion. Paxton was unsure who cast the other dissenting vote. Because it was a voice vote there is no official record of how councillors voted. A call placed to Rae’s office by Xtra was not returned.
In 2005 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that two Montreal swingers clubs that allowed sex on the premises between consenting adults didn’t harm society and therefore did not violate decency laws.
“Consensual conduct behind code-locked doors can hardly be supposed to jeopardize a society as vigorous and tolerant as Canadian society,” wrote chief justice Beverly McLachlin in the decision.
Peter Bochove, owner of men’s bathhouse Spa Excess, says he is not worried about what Grimes’ motion might mean for Toronto’s bathhouses. But he called efforts to stop heterosexuals from having the same kind of sex enjoyed by many queer men “ridiculous.”
“The Supreme Court of Canada found that places like swingers clubs don’t hurt anyone,” says Bochove. “The court said that ‘community standards’ are not the issue here, but whether or not someone is being harmed. Grimes, however, is making the issue one of community standards.”
Bochove notes that the city can regulate things like zoning and signage but cannot shut down sex clubs outright.
“The city has the right to regulate, but they don’t have the right to shut down existing operations,” he says. “For example if Spa Excess had a big sign that said, ‘Come in and get sucked off,’ I would expect to hear from the school across the street. But for the city to attempt to find ways to circumvent the Supreme Court is inviting a lawsuit. And the Supreme Court trumps anything city council might do.”
Still, the city could try to trigger a lawsuit and attempt to simply bankrupt any business it is trying to oust.
“They may not be able to shut you down but they can still fuck with you,” says Bochove.