4 min

Count ’em up

Find a Canadian who doesn't like orgies

Credit: Tony Fong

Close your eyes. Imagine somebody – make that some bodies, let’s say 11 of them – in a dark chamber just down the street engaged in group sex acts this very minute.

Are you upset? Has your day been ruined? Has the government let you down? Can you tolerate this happening?

The issue of whether Canadians tolerate other Canadians participating in orgies was raised in a Jul 4 ruling by Quebec Municipal Court Judge Denis Boisvert. In the case of the straight swingers’ club Brigitte et Michel, Boisvert found the club owners guilty of operating a common bawdy house because indecent acts were taking place there. In a situation familiar to those who have lived through bathhouse raids, Denis Chesnel and his daughter Brigitte Chesnel will be sentenced at a later date, as will three swingers who were found guilty of being found in a common bawdy house.

Indecent acts have been defined by courts in this country as sexual acts that Canadians can’t tolerate other Canadians participating in (that you won’t participate in an act yourself doesn’t make it indecent). What earned this decision international attention was Boisvert’s strange cut-off point. He ruled that Canadians can indeed tolerate others having sex with strangers or near strangers in a sex club; membership fees and other rules are sufficient to establish a certain level of privacy, even if the venue was not a private home or private room.

But what Canadians can’t tolerate is orgies. Having sex in front of others at home might be okay. But group sex with more than 10 people present is especially intolerable and, ruled Boisvert, considered indecent under law.

Does Boisvert have his finger on the pulse?

“I think the judge was giving his own feeling, based on the people he knows at his country club,” says Michael Adams, president of polling firm Environics and author of several books on Canadian values.

Adams says he’s never heard of any major polls on attitudes toward this kind of sexual behaviour – it’s pretty hard to ask questions people are going to answer honestly. But his sense of things is that orgies aren’t even on the radar of the average Canadian.

“Canadians have become pretty liberal if it sounds like it’s consenting adults,” says Adams. “Canadians don’t like street soliciting. They’re definitely against paedophilia. Sex for money… they’re ambivalent about. Orgies? Most Canadians probably haven’t really thought about it at all. I don’t know whether anybody gives a damn.”

For evidence in the Brigitte et Michel case, the Quebec Swingers Association hired pollster CROP to survey 713 Canadians about their attitudes. The survey says that 74 percent of Quebecers and 57 percent of Canadians find the idea of swingers clubs held in an establishment tolerable. (The young are even more liberal. About 70 percent of Canadians between 18 and 34 find swingers clubs tolerable.)

Asked about whether people going to strip clubs was troublesome to them, 91 percent of Quebecers and 76 percent of Canadians said it wasn’t. The use of pornography got a 90 percent “non-troubling” verdict in Quebec, 67 percent in Canada as a whole. Prostitution via the telephone was not troubling to 67 percent of Quebecers and 47 percent of Canadians, though toleration of street prostitution was only 65 percent in Quebec and 35 percent in all of Canada.

Unfortunately CROP didn’t ask about orgies, so we might have to look at Canadians taste in pornography to get a sense of what they’ll tolerate. (Judges have ruled that obscenity and indecency have similar tests. If people are watching it, they’re tolerating it, right?)

Peter Jorgensen, owner of Adults Only Video, Canada’s largest adult video chain, says Canadians do like to watch group sex. He doesn’t have data on what percentage of porn features orgies, but it’s significant. Admittedly the performers are mostly American and European – foreigners are more depraved than Canucks, aren’t they? – but Jorgensen says it doesn’t make a difference.

“Canadians don’t watch it telling themselves, ‘This only happens someplace else,'” says Jorgensen.

Jorgensen won a Supreme Court Of Canada case in 1995, after he was charged with knowingly selling obscene material. He argued that because the videotapes in question were approved by the Ontario Film Review Board (OFRB), he couldn’t have known they were possibly obscene. Though the court ruled that film board approval does not automatically make material okay, it did say that film boards give some indication of Canadian community standards.

Over to Bill Moody, then, the chair of the 31-member OFRB.

“Assuming that by an orgy you’re referring to group sex, there have been many videos approved the board that involve group sex,” says Moody. He admits that board members did talk about establishing a cut-off for the number of participants in a sex scene, but, in the end, decided to leave it open.

“We don’t have a guideline that you can’t have more than two people or more than 22 people,” says Moody. “What we’re really interested in is making sure there’s no physical abuse or any visual or verbal signs of pain by either of the partners involved or many of the partners involved.”

Though it currently has no openly gay or lesbian board members (which Moody says is not typical), review panels do not find same-sex porn more intolerable than straight.

“We try to represent all sexual preferences,” says Moody.

Though an orgy of evidence seems to contradict Judge Boisvert’s narrow view of what we’ll tolerate, Jean Hamel, the president of the Quebec Swingers Association, says he’s still happy with the decision.

“It’s a giant step for the liberty of sexual manners. It’s half the job,” says Hamel, who admits that it was the defence’s own expert witness, Michel Campbell, who suggested that Canadians won’t tolerate orgies of 10 or more people.

“If Mr Campbell had said orgies start at 25, I’m sure the judge would have put the number at 25,” says Hamel.

So round up nine of your friends and remember that your fellow citizens really don’t mind.

* The Quebec Swingers Association is at Boisvert’s entire decision is posted there — though only in French. You can read Xtra’s series on sex laws at