Vancouver
5 min

Police raid

Vice squad targets consensual sex at Goliath's

APOLOGY DEMANDED: Calgary's gay activists, including Pride co-chair Keith Purdy (above), have joined with Egale, Canada's national gay lobby group, to demand bathhouse raid charges be dropped, the police chief apologize and the force stop policing gay sexuality. Credit: Gareth Kirkby

When Terry Haldane first heard that police were swarming into Calgary’s only gay bathhouse, he thought it must be a bad joke.



Haldane was sitting in the bathhouse’s hot tub on Dec 12 when another patron ran in with word of the raid. “I thought it was some asinine jerk being funny,” he says. “Then, all of a sudden, there were police everywhere.”



More than 20 years after Toronto police stormed into four bathhouses, arrested their patrons and staff and published their names for all to see, Calgary police resurrected the bawdy house section of the Criminal Code and turned it against the gay community.



The ensuing raid on Goliath’s Sauna marked the culmination of a two-month undercover operation where officers posed as patrons and looked for evidence of “explicit sexual activity.”



Gays and lesbians across Canada are still reeling from the news.



“This is a step back to Stonewall,” says Keith Purdy, co-chair of Calgary’s Pride association and a bartender at the Texas Lounge adjacent to Goliath’s.



John Fisher, executive director of Canada’s national gay lobby group Egale, agrees. “Whatever progress is being made in other areas, when it comes to policing our sexuality, police are still stuck 20 years in the past-in the era of the bathhouse raids,” he says.



Vancouver bathhouse owner Michael Hornby agrees. “I think they’re living in the dark ages out there,” he says, referring to the police force, city hall and the mayor. “Gay men deserve to have a safe place to go and have sex. It’s just part of our culture.”



This raid sends a message to all gays and lesbians that “none of us are safe from police intrusion into our private sexual lives,” Fisher says.



“It’s outrageous that in Canada in 2002 the police are committing resources to criminalizing gay sex. [It’s a] flagrant abuse of police power.”



Haldane still can’t believe the raid happened at all. “I was shocked,” he recalls.



“I just thought, Holy Christ, I can’t believe this is going on.”



Haldane is well aware of the history of gay bathhouse raids in Canada, and particularly the 1981 Toronto raids that galvanized a whole generation of gay activists. He just never expected to get caught in the middle of a raid himself.



“I’ve been going to baths for the better part of my adult life,” he says. This is the first time he has ever had a problem.



But he says he’s not about to start hiding now. “I’m an out gay man. I come here for sex,” he says, adding that he doesn’t care who knows it.



Haldane and 12 other patrons now face one charge each of being found in a common bawdy house without lawful excuse. If convicted, they will likely have to pay a fine. Goliath’s manager, Lonnie Nomeland, is facing one charge of knowingly allowing the bathhouse to be used as a bawdy house, which could also result in a fine.



And two other employees, along with Goliath’s two owners, Ed Southern and Darrell Zakreski, are facing a more serious charge of “keeping” a common bawdy house, which could result in up to two years in jail.



Calgary police say they launched the raid after receiving two complaints about the bathhouse.



But Staff Sgt Joe Houben, who runs the city’s vice squad, won’t call it a raid. His detectives didn’t raid Goliath’s, he says-they executed a search warrant. “We didn’t go in with tommy guns.”



The vice squad is not targeting the gay community, he hastens to add. This is the eighth time this year that the squad has pressed charges under the bawdy house section of the Criminal Code and the other seven incidents involved heterosexual massage parlours.



That’s not good enough for Fisher. “The law upon which this is based is archaic,” he says.



Haldane agrees. The whole bawdy house section of the Criminal Code should have been wiped off the books years ago, he says, echoing his lawyer.



“It’s just hard to believe that the police are devoting resources to criminalizing consensual private sex,” Fisher continues. As long as there is no demonstrated harm, there is no state basis for police interference, he says.



Houben insists that he only ordered the investigation because he received complaints about sex in the “public” areas of the bathhouse. “It’s not something we go looking for,” he says, explaining that he lacks the resources to investigate every “bawdy house” in town.



“We just don’t have that luxury,” Houben says.



But he admits he found the resources to send undercover officers into Goliath’s at least five times in the last two months. They posed as patrons and looked for evidence of “explicit sexual activity” in the bathhouse’s common areas.



The prospect sends shivers down Purdy’s spine. That sounds like entrapment, he says.



“Were these officers going in there and participating?” he asks. “Obviously, if they go into the tub, one would assume that they would.”



News of the undercover sting falls heavily on Fisher, as well. “That sends a rather nasty message about police intrusion into a gay environment in which they have no place,” he says.



“What a waste of police resources,” he repeats incredulously. “I just can’t get my mind around why any police force would [expend so many resources on a gay bathhouse] in order to uncover consensual sex.”



It looks like the police were more motivated by an “over-zealotry” to police the gay community, than a genuine need to protect the public, Fisher continues.



Houben, who only switched into vice four months ago from youth services, denies that the raid is the work of an over-zealous vice squad with an over-zealous new staff sergeant.



But he will say that busting bawdy houses is old hat in Calgary’s vice squad, pointing out, once again, that Goliath’s is the eighth investigation this year. “I didn’t start this,” Houben says. “This has been on-going.”



According to the Calgary Herald, the vice squad’s search warrant for Goliath’s specifically cites group sex, sex shows and porn screenings among its examples of public sexual activity worth investigating at the bathhouse.



“The layout and characteristics of the premise are such that this premise is solely designed to facilitate indecent sexual acts between males,” the warrant says, according to the Herald.



First of all, there is nothing “indecent” about sex between men, retorts longtime gay activist Stephen Lock. Second of all, it’s a private, gay bathhouse: of course men have sex there-that’s the point, he says.



That doesn’t justify a warrant, let alone a raid, Lock continues. “The bottom line is I don’t want the State or agents of the State, being in a gay space.”



At least the officers behind the raid were courteous, Haldane says. In the 1981 Toronto bathhouse raids, officers were rude, violent and blatantly homophobic.



Though Calgary’s officers did do some damage to the bathhouse itself on Dec 12, they let the patrons get dressed with some measure of privacy, Haldane says, adding that the female officers left the room. Some officers even tried to reassure the closeted married men-who made up the large majority of people arrested-that their wives would not be notified. (Though if charges proceed, the names of the accused will likely be posted at the courthouse.)



The officers may have been courteous, but that doesn’t make the raid acceptable, Purdy counters.



And the amount of resources the police poured into this raid makes it doubly unacceptable, he adds. There were enough cops there to arrest 150 people, he says. “It was over-staffed, as far as I’m concerned.”



The vice squad certainly acted over-zealously on Dec 12, Purdy concludes, echoing Fisher.



Purdy isn’t sure when Calgary’s only gay bathhouse will re-open for business, but he hopes it will be soon. Police put a screw in the lock to “secure the premises” after they raided them.



As for the 18 charges, Haldane doubts they’ll go forward since the bawdy house section of the Criminal Code is so antiquated.



Houben disagrees. He says he has already consulted with the Crown and thinks the charges are likely to go forward at the first appearance on Jan 23.



If that happens, Fisher hopes Haldane and the others will challenge the charges and refuse to plead guilty.



These men need to find a good lawyer to challenge “these excesses of police authority,” he says. The police have to be shown that they cannot simply act with impunity.



TWO ALDERMEN SIT ON THE CALGARY POLICE COMMISSION.

Alderman Craig Burrows.

403.268.2430.

Alderman Diane Danielson.

403.268.2430.