Toronto
3 min

Male cops at Pussy Palace

Women's bathhouse grrrls may face charges

WASSUP? Aidan Maher of 52 Division won't call back. Credit: Xtra files

Male police officers pounded on the closed doors of cubicles during last week’s Pussy Palace women’s bathhouse night.



“They knocked on closed doors. They took names and numbers of women who were at the event,” says Janet Rowe, the spokesperson for Pussy Palace.



“They were intimidating and imposing.”



Says Rowe: “There’s bathhouses open 24 hours a day. We know sex happens in a bathhouse – that’s why we held the bathhouse. There’s no denial there. What we are very clear about is that this is harassment.”



Legally, a cubicle with a closed door is a private place.



Police told organizers they were checking for liquor licence violations. No charges were laid at the time.



Rowe says police arrived the night of Sep 14 and waited outside for about an hour.



Around 1am, one officer was in the lobby, and four went in for a 15-minute check. The same four then went back in for a complete tour of all four floors of Mutual Street’s Club Toronto. They finally left around 2am.



Rowe says organizers and customers were very polite. “After they came through the second time, we said okay, now we’re going to talk to a lawyer. That’s when they left.”



Rowe says the event was carefully planned and very popular. Some 300 women attended, with a line-up that lasted two-and-a-half hours at one point. It is the fourth Pussy Palace, and there’ve been no problems before.



ID was required at the door, and women were asked to hand in bags at the coat check. Patrons were told what constitutes illegal activity, like drug use, bringing in outside alcohol or exchanging money for sex. In addition, they were told that under the law, sex must be “private.”



There was one bar, Rowe says, on the second floor. Alcohol was allowed anywhere inside the building – but not in the pool area or the sauna. She says she is not aware of any illegal activities.



“Women are very angry. It’s really important people know that five male police officers came into a women-only event. The police know what bathhouses are. Women were topless… feeling violated. Why couldn’t they have sent female officers? This is just the beginning of more harassment of bathhouses.



“Our issue is if this is just a routine look at our liquor licence, there was no need to send five male police officers.”



Coincidentally, new Club Toronto management and City Councillor Kyle Rae had set up a get-to-know-you meeting with the head of 52 Division, Aidan Maher, for earlier this week.



Club Toronto manager Gerry White won’t talk on the advice of a lawyer. Rae says Maher simply refused to discuss the raid. And Maher did not return Xtra’s call.



Police Chief Julian Fantino did not return calls.



Rae issued a scathing press release within hours of the police visit. “No crime; no victim; but an opportunity to cop a peek at topless women,” seethed Rae, referring to the incident as an “ogle fest” by the male officers.



“This police action takes us back 20 years when the community was in fear of police officers harassing and terrorizing individuals and our spaces. The result of the bath raids of 1981 [when more than 300 gay men were arrested and police used axes to break down cubicle doors] made it clear to the police that the public had no tolerance for police officers imposing their morality on our community. This lesson obviously must be learned again.”



Rae insists that a female undercover officer was sent in before the men arrived, but refuses to divulge where that information comes from.



Pussy Palace women say they will fight back. They will hold a community forum to plan a response at 7pm on Thu, Sep 21 at the 519 Church Street Community Centre. They will also have a contingent in the Take Back The Night March. The rally begins at 7pm on Thu, Sep 28 at Masaryk Park (Cowan Ave at Queen St W, west of Dufferin). The march is women-only; it was disrupted by police last year.



As Xtra went went to press on Tuesday night, no charges had been laid.



Donations to the Toronto Women’s Bathhouse Legal Defence Fund can be sent to 175 Harbord St, Toronto M5S 1H3.