3 min

Controversy in Helsinki

City squashes big cock contest, issues fine

Credit: Rob Thomas

A showdown with bylaw officers over a “Big Cock Contest” at Helsinki has resulted in a $610 fine for the nightclub despite the cancellation of the contest.

A week after the “Holy Fuck” night at Helsinki where the contest was to take place, the city of Ottawa levied a fine under bylaw L6-2000 for a body-painting event that took place that same night. Zadek Ramowski, one-third owner of Helsinki, is angry and feels his bar was targeted because this was a gay event.

Ottawa bylaw L6-2000 defines an adult entertainment parlour as “any premise or part thereof in which is provided, in pursuance of a trade, calling, business or occupation, live entertainment or services appealing to or designed to appeal to erotic or sexual appetites or inclinations.” The city contends this definition would have required Helsinki to obtain a license to hold a contest that might appeal to sexual appetites.

“Apparently, you are actually allowed, as a woman, to take your shirt off and walk the street but as soon as that happens in a commercial establishment it is illegal,” protests Ramowski. “I think there are many wet T-shirt contests and people turn their backs.”

Prior to the event, Helsinki had been advised by their lawyer, Patrick Murray, to proceed with caution and consequently the promoter agreed to cancel the Big Cock Contest.

“They were looking for something,” Ramowski contends, “and the strangest part is when they said ‘You’re not allowed to do this,’ we said, ‘Fine.’ We totally co-operated.”

So was Helsinki targeted because this was a gay event?

“No, absolutely not,” says Linda Anderson, manager of enforcement and inspection in the Bylaw Branch at the City of Ottawa.

Anderson admits that the definition of establishments for adult entertainment is broad but she insists that the bylaw is applied fairly.

“We had a sign outside a billiard hall out in the west end of the city last year and it was advertising a topless billiard contest. We applied the same bylaw to that event,” Anderson explains.

Anderson was unaware of the subsequent ticket but added that she could not comment regardless until the matter went to court. She insists, however, that the ticket should “absolutely not” be interpreted as targeted.

“We would simply be doing follow-up inspection to make sure that they were complying. We do that with every by-law,” Anderson explains.

“Based on that information we might have seen something in the club that, in our opinion, would fall under that definition.”

Stephen Brown, a professor of political science at the University of Ottawa who follows gay rights issues across Canada, says incidents like this one are not common. But he adds that existing regulations are applied more strictly to gay or gay-oriented establishments. He points to gay bathhouse examples.

The Pussy Palace, a lesbian bathhouse in Toronto, for example, was raided in 2000. In that case charges, which have since been dismissed, were laid under the liquor license act.

“It’s sort of the Al Capone approach,” Brown explains. “You can’t get him for being a mobster, you get him for tax evasion. They want to crack down on places where sexuality is expressed more freely so they get them on liquor violations.”

Ramowski says that the planned “Big Cock Contest” would not have involved nudity.

“At most somebody might take off their jeans or something but no underwear will come off. This is more of a fun kind of thing than a sexually arousing kind of thing,” he explains.

The body-painting for which the fine was levied involved two topless women posing as models for a canvas while someone else painted them.

“This is purely an art form. It’s painting nudes,” Ramowski argues. “It happens just around the corner at the school of art all the time. And that’s a public building too. It’s total crap, really. And I think it has to do with the fact that it was a gay event.”

Helsinki’s owners have pleaded not guilty and requested a trial date.

Lawyer Patrick Murray says the charges relate to “the unlicensed operation of an adult entertainment parlour which, of course, is not at all what our clients were doing and that’s why we’re going to be vigorously defending them.”