2 min

Oops, we’re sorry

Male cops at Pussy Palace showed 'insensitivity'

WAITING. Last fall protesters demanded a report on the police visit to the lesbian bathhouse. It still hasn't come. Credit: Mark Bogdanovic

Toronto police have finally admitted to making a boo-boo sending male cops into a women-only sex event.

But that’s the only thing they’ll admit when it comes to their investigation on the Pussy Palace lesbian bathhouse last September.

This week staff superintendent Bill Blair dismissed accusations that police targeted the event, that the gay and lesbian community is overpoliced or that there are rogue cops picking on queer events.

As for the report he’s written to back up these conclusions – don’t expect to ever see it.

“It was an internal investigation,” says Blair, who was put in charge of the downtown police divisions in January. “It’s with Chief [Julian] Fantino.”

Pussy Palace organizers had asked the Toronto Police Services Board for the report, and the board had suggested parts could be made public. That was more than six months ago.

“We expected to see the report,” says Pussy Palace spokesperson Janet Rowe. “We’re extremely disappointed because it’s clearly not going to happen. They are dragging their heels and trying to sweep it under the carpet.”

Blair says he conducted an inquiry into the police visit to the lesbian bathhouse in the wee hours of Sep 15. According to organizers, five male officers spent more than an hour at Club Toronto. They asked the names of patrons – many of whom weren’t fully dressed – knocked on doors and searched the premises.

No criminal charges resulted, but two organizers were charged with liquor offences. (A fall court date is expected for Rachael Aitcheson and JP Hornick on a total of six charges, including permitting disorderly conduct, serving after hours and permitting alcohol to be consumed in an unlicensed area.)

“The officers responded within the law, but we could have done the business we had to do with greater sensitivity,” says Blair.

Blair says female officers should have been used. Two did take part in the investigation, but, looking at staffing for that night, Blair says “we should have cast our nets further to get more female officers, bring them in from other districts…. We could have anticipated the reaction from within the community.”

He also says that the police should not have disrupted the event as much as they did. “It should have been done as quickly as possible.”

“I think it’s a good thing they thought it was inappropriate to send men,” Rowe says. “The police need to make a public statement about women’s events. If there’s a change in policy, it should be made apparent.”

Blair admits the Pussy Palace brouhaha resulted in a loss of trust between the police and the gay community, but that things have improved since then.

Rowe says Blair should put his money where his mouth is.

“If their aim is to build trust, then the charges should be dropped.”

Blair also looked into allegations that the police targeted the Pussy Palace, and that rogue cops from 52 Division – perhaps for their own titillation – initiated the raid.

He wouldn’t give details, but said the police received two separate complaints “very specific, alleging serious criminal activity [through] an investigative unit outside 52 Division.”

“I personally reject that it was rogue cops doing their own thing,” says Blair.

Was there systemic discrimination that led the police to a lesbian event? Again, no details, but Blair says his research showed “the level of enforcement in the gay community was proportionate to enforcement at other establishments.”

That argument doesn’t hold water for Rowe.

“We certainly felt the event was targeted,” she says. “We know what the laws are, we know the liquor laws are being used to target the community.”

Blair says that within the next two months, a liaison officer “who’s credible” will be appointed to help improve relations with the gay community. The police already have such liaison officers in the Asian, black and Italian communities.