4 min

Our own space

Goliath's a private space for community: manager

Credit: Gareth Kirkby

CALGARY-Out-of-town visitors looking for Goliath’s bathhouse often have to call repeatedly for directions to the unassuming and low-profile business.

But at 3:30 pm on Dec 12, Calgary police knew exactly how to get there. By the time they left, two employees had been charged with keeping a common bawdy house, 13 patrons with being found without lawful excuse in a common bawdy house.

Goliath’s is located off the city’s bustling 17th Avenue SW entertainment strip. Patrons must venture along an alley, through a parking lot, down some stairs, through a secured door, past a window where they must purchase a membership and through another door before entering the common area. Above the window, a large, pink neon sign unmistakeably declares it to be a “Gay Premises.”

The tub has been operating without problems for the last 15 years. Now, police say, they had no choice but to investigate complaints about sex in the bathhouse’s common areas, such as the hot tub and the TV room, because they are “public.”

It’s an argument that rings untrue to many Calgary gays.

There’s nothing public about Goliath’s, says manager Lonnie Nomeland.

With all the security and check-in procedures, Goliath’s is certainly not a place a member of the general public could simply blunder into. Despite police claims to the contrary, the entire bathhouse is more aptly described as a private meeting space for gays, rather than a collection of private rooms connected by public spaces.

“Goliath’s is a totally secure place,” agrees Keith Purdy, a bartender in the Texas Lounge adjacent to Goliath’s.

It’s basically a private club that patrons have to get buzzed into, echoes activist Stephen Lock.

Lock can’t understand why police suddenly raided Goliath’s on Dec 12-especially since they have known all along about the sex there. “The police are very aware of the establishment,” he says. “They know exactly what it’s about.”

Nomeland confirms that police chief Jack Beaton, along with other officers and members of city council, attended Goliath’s Pride Week breakfast in the bathhouse parking lot earlier this year. “We had two alderwomen walk through and use the washroom,” he says.

And Cst Doug Jones, the police liaison to the gay community, has paid friendly visits to Goliath’s on several occasions and even toured the facilities.

If the police had any concerns or questions about the operation, they should have talked to him, Nomeland says.

Goliath’s was set up for a sting, Nomeland continues. He claims police planted an officer on the premises to proposition patrons after receiving two anonymous complaints. The officer would have to have been wandering the halls in a towel, he says.

“This is like something out of the Victorian era,” Nomeland says. “This was done as a sting or some kind of vendetta.”

The concept of a plant flies in the face of everything Nomeland thought police were doing to build better relations with Calgary’s gay community. He questions why the police-community liaison committee and the liaison officer position exist if neither was informed of problems which could have been dealt with before the raid. The situation makes the CPS’ commitment to a cooperative relationship suspect, he says.

“I think they’ve led us down a blind alley,” Nomeland says. “I don’t know who has called this shot but it’s a big kick in the teeth to the gay community. I’m appalled at the way things were handled.”

Inside the spotless bathhouse, the remnants of the police visit remain. One door is splintered where officers jimmied it, the lock mechanism on the floor. Pieces of padlocks scatter the floor after being dismembered with bolt cutters. Plastic gloves lie in ashtrays where officers abandoned them in the whirlpool area. Heating ducts hang ripped open. Nomeland has no idea what the officers were looking for.

“They’ve come in and they’ve humiliated and terrified the whole community,” he says.

Nomeland himself remains uncertain of Goliath’s fate, having received conflicting messages from the police through lawyer John Bascomb. Ready to turn himself in the day after the raid, the divorced grandfather was later told not to bother. Police officers were busy, he was told, perhaps he could make a statement on Monday. Perhaps he wouldn’t be charged.

“And in the same breath, they said: ‘Go ahead and open up again. We won’t bother (Goliath’s),'” he says. “I said I want re-assurance that if we do open up again, there won’t be police presence and harassment.”

It’s that uncertainty that’s led Don Bastian, operator of Calgary Eagle, a leather bar, to delay his plans for a bathhouse below his premises.

Nomeland is adamant that Goliath’s has met every requirement made of it. Not only that, but the bathhouse is also a key supporter of community events, he says.

The premises themselves consist of 46 private rooms with beds and side tables, a porn-viewing room, a regular TV room, whirlpool room and private showers.

“We’re mild,” he says. “We don’t have sling rooms, glory holes or blackout rooms.”

Despite his fears of harassment, Nomeland wanted to re-open on Dec 14. Staying closed made it look as if they had something to hide, some guilt, he says, and that just isn’t the case.

Nomeland finally managed to turn himself in on Dec 19 and now faces one charge of knowingly allowing the premises to function as a common bawdy house. If convicted, he will likely have to pay a fine.

Police have now also charged the owners, Ed Southern and Darrell Zakreski, with “keeping” a common bawdy house, an indictable offence with a sentence of up to two years in prison. Two employees also face the same “keeping” charge. And 13 men face summary charges of being found in a common bawdy house; if convicted, they, too, will likely have to pay a fine.

* with files from Robin Perelle