The future of two popular gay hangouts may be in jeopardy after they were named as hotspots for street-level drug deals by the Ottawa police street-crime unit.
On Thursday, May 5, after a five-month criminal investigation, police arrested 12 people and laid 84 trafficking-related charges. Three of the arrests were made at Centretown Pub and Swizzles Bar.
Staff sergeant Kal Ghadban, the officer in charge of the investigation, says that police have turned over evidence related to the two bars to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO.)
“What they [AGCO] are looking for is to determine if the establishment, or the management of the establishment, had any knowledge of the fact that there was actual criminal activities taking place on the premises,” he says.
Two people, a customer and a bartender, were arrested at Swizzles, and one person was arrested at Centretown Pub.
Ghadban says the number of people arrested at the two bars does not show the complete picture of the investigation.
“What I can tell you is a lot of our meetings and transactions that we were able to see that the trafficking… was taking place at those locations,” he says. “Although yes, at one place there was a bartender arrested and at the other one someone happened to be arrested at the location, it doesn’t give you the full picture of what transpired even before that … There were previous transactions and information and dealings that we have observed at those locations. That’s why we were able to make that sweep.”
Jesse Pankhurst is the owner of Swizzles Bar. He was notified about the police raid early Thursday evening by a customer. Pankhurst was annoyed that the police left the bar unattended — after arresting the bartender — without notifying management. He was also upset that the bar had been identified as a “focal point” for drug dealing.
“To be named, I feel, is insulting. We didn’t do anything wrong,” he says. “We try to maintain a very safe environment because we are a very small space and we can’t have any problems. We have to be much more disciplined. People want to come in and feel safe, and we want to make sure we can provide that.”
Pankhurst has owned Swizzles for seven years and has never had any negative dealings with the police, he says. He has not been notified by the police of any further investigations. He is unsure of what the arrests will mean for the bar and if or when there will be further investigation.
During the five-month investigation, a total of 170 grams of powder cocaine, 15 grams of crack cocaine, 20 grams of marijuana, five vials of ketamine and nine ecstasy pills were seized, with a total street value of $37,970.
Ghadban would not give details about the cost of the investigation, but he did say that it required a lot of man-hours and that the contraband seized “was a substantial amount for street level.”
Still, $40,000 is a relatively modest bust. The next day, the police drug unit concluded a three-month undercover investigation that targeted marijuana grow operations and traffickers. That operation seized $15 million in marijuana plus $285,000 in cash.
While the police investigation has ended, it is yet to be determined when the AGCO will begin its inquiry into the two bars. Until it does, the bars will no doubt continue to be popular hangouts for Ottawa queers.
At press time, Centretown Pub management would not speak with Xtra.