Hamilton officials were so worried that patrons of the Warehouse Spa And Bath were eating unlicensed chocolate bars, taking cold showers, cruising by candlelight and breathing secondhand smoke, police arrested these very patrons. With benevolence like that, who needs perasecution?
Even if you believe this story propagated by the Hamilton Police Service – I certainly don’t – their actions fly in the face of their claims that the visit and arrests were about “the safety of the community at large.” Phooey. The Aug 3 bathhouse raid in Hamilton has jeopardized community safety, assuming police deem men who have sex with men part of the community.
By raiding the Warehouse and possibly putting it out of business, the police have sent men, many married and closeted, out into parks, trails and their cars to have sex. It’s reduced their ability to access condoms, lube and safe-sex information and has reduced their connection to their peers. They will expose themselves to more dangers in the pursuit of sex and will be more, not less, bothersome to those who don’t want to accidentally stumble across gay sex.
But I don’t think Hamilton police were trying to protect community safety at all. I think they wanted to stamp out venues for gay sex in Steeltown. Their claims that they didn’t know the Warehouse was a gay sex spot and that, once there, they weren’t looking for gay sex, sound like a coverup.
How did they come to decide to visit the Warehouse? They monitored a gay cruising website and found an anonymous posting about hygiene there. Sure, a gay cruising site is the first place I’d go for information on fire and safety concerns about Hamilton’s businesses, though you’d have to skip over all the postings about threeways, exhibitionism and ass-fucking.
The Warehouse is not a big place and there were only four or five customers there the evening of Aug 3. The Multi-Agency Task Force had about nine members. The two men charged with committing indecent acts were in a video room at the back. Any horny bathhouse patron with more than a few seconds’ notice would put his towel back on if a stampede of inspectors was coming through. Yet the police exercised enough stealth to catch them allegedly in the act. Why were they sneaking around the place if they weren’t after customers?
In a city with fewer than 10 gay businesses, three are inspected on a single night. That’s no coincidence. One or more officials decided to put a scare into gay men in Hamilton. So far it’s been a smashing success.
Police motivations – did they go looking for gay sex or did they stumble across it? – are not so much an issue of law as one of public policy. Not many Canadians would consider it a good use of taxpayers’ money to send nine people looking for improper nonsmoking signage, to find men in the back of an adult establishment getting off.
And yet, in Hamilton, in Calgary and in other raids on sex spaces, police continue to waste tax dollars putting a scare into queers. It’s sad that it takes a politicized gay and lesbian community, like Toronto’s since the 1981 bathhouse raids, to scare police back. But with Toronto’s Pussy Palace and Bijou raids still in our recent memory, it looks like the lesson of 1981 has not been imprinted deeply enough. Queers across Canada need to continually demonstrate that this nonsense can’t go on.
While the ultimate solution is for politicians to amend Canada’s sex laws, that does not let the police off the hook. Under Canadian law, what’s an indecent act is very much in the eyes of the beholder. If police weren’t so appalled by gay sex and didn’t spend so much time looking for it you could be sure that their macho indignation at stumbling across two guys in a clinch would shrivel.
Paul Gallant is Managing Editor for Xtra.