3 min

One in Ten makes the world a little safer for bums

Ottawa bylaw officers try to turf sexy pics from the Bank St shop's window

Tommy Ramsey points at the city's bylaws. Credit: Neil McKinnon

The displays at One in Ten just got a little spicier.

On June 19, an Ottawa bylaw officer stopped by the Bank St sex shop to tell its staff that their window display contravened city ordinances. But after sex shop’s staff and owner did their research, they discovered that they were allowed to show more than the bylaw officer — and even the shop’s owner — had thought.

Since 1998, One in Ten has been selling porn and, well, getting people’s attention. With a small operating budget, their main promotion vehicle is the store’s front window.

While people periodically phone to complain about what’s in the window, shop owner Tom Ramsey simply tells them he’s running a gay porn store and not a candy shop. 

On June 19, One in Ten received just such a call. A man told a staffmember that the material in the window was “disgusting” and his kids should not have to see it. The caller warned the staffer that he’d notified the city’s bylaw department.

A bylaw officer visited the store a few hours later. He politely asked staff to remove everything of a sexual nature from of the window.

“No skin at all. Not even guys with their shirts off,” said the officer.

The staffer asked for a definition of the supposed offence his store committed.

He was quoted a bylaw (a section of the city’s Adult Entertainment Section 19, part G), which requires that “no adult magazine, adult video, adult video container or any other printed material or visual image which reveals a specified body area or a specified sexual activity is displayed so that it may be viewed by any member of the public outside the premises”.

Still unsure, staff asked what “specified body area” or a “specified sexual activity” meant. The officer did not know and said he needed to ask his boss.

For a few hours on a slow Saturday evening, One in Ten had an empty front window.

But then the folks at One in Ten did a little research. They sent a staffer to the Ottawa Public Library to find more information on what exactly “specified body area” or a “specified sexual activity” meant.

A clerk printed out 50 pages of the City’s adult entertainment bylaws, available to the general public only upon request, and handed it over. It turns out that bylaw no 2005-414 for adult entertainment store licences, says “specified body area means any one or more of the following: a) in the case of a female person, her areola; and b) in the cases of all persons, the genitals and anus.” For “specified sexual activity”, it means “one or more of the following: actual or simulated sexual intercourse, ejaculation, sodomy, bestiality, oral sexual intercourse, direct physical stimulation of unclothed genital organs or flagellation or torture in the context of a sexual relationship or activity.”

So Ramsey breathed a sigh of relief, knowing the store could put its goods back in the window. As the officer dropped by Monday and was about to fine the store, Ramsey had his guns cleaned and was ready to fight. He showed the officer the city’s definition of “specified body area” and “specified sexual activity”. The officer took the material and said he pass it to his boss. The officer later returned to One in Ten and thanked Ramsey for his diligence and told him to continue with his display and promised him he would never be visited again by another bylaw officer about his storefront.

Until recently, Ramsey did not know he could show bare asses of men and women. He will now.

“You have to be careful how you deal with bylaw officers. They are able to interpret laws most people can’t,” says Ramsey.

Around the same time last week, bylaw officers also visited Wicked Wanda’s and to ask owner Wanda Cotie if she had her adult entertainment licence.

“I showed them my licence and told them to fuck off. I know [adult entertainment stores] are allowed to push limits. But we have to learn how to do it without offending clients,” says Cotie, who opened her store on Bank with burning crosses in the front window.