Toronto
2 min

Pussy Palace complaint goes public

Police board & Fantino silent so far

KNICKERS IN A KNOT. Pussy Palace protestors staged a panty picket outside of 52 Division in 2000 in response to the raid on the women's bathhouse night. Credit: Mark Bogdanovic

Last week the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) called for a public hearing to determine what really happened on Sep 14, 2000, the night that five male police officers raided a Toronto women’s bathhouse event.



The decision, announced Thu, Jun 17, comes nearly four years after the raid and three-and-a-half years since the complaint was originally filed.



“We’re so delighted that we’re going to have a hearing,” says bathhouse volunteer and former Toronto Women’s Bathhouse Committee member Janet Rowe. “It’s been a really long time coming and it’s been difficult.”



Although the committee had originally hoped that the matter could be settled through mediation, neither the Toronto Police Services Board nor police chief Julian Fantino, who is named as a personal respondent in the case, responded to the complaint during the OHRC’s investigation.



“We’ve been frustrated through the whole process,” says Rowe. “Each step of the way there have been opportunities for the police to respond and they did not. It’s really unacceptable.”



Rowe calls the committee a “feisty bunch” and says they’re not giving up until they get some resolution. “There are moments where you go, ‘Why are we doing this again?'” she says, “and then it becomes crystal clear that there’s a much larger reason why we’re taking this forward… that larger purpose is that the police must be accountable for their actions.



“The police have used liquor licences to police many marginalized communities,” says Rowe. “The legal system is saying it’s not okay to do. That is not justice.”



“Obviously we’ll be encouraging the commission, if it finds there was discrimination, to impose some systemic changes on the police,” says Frank Addario, the committee’s lawyer.



Although declining to speculate on the outcome of the upcoming hearing, Addario says he’s feeling good about the OHRC’s decision to send the complaint to tribunal. “We’re confident that we’re going to get a fair hearing on the issues we’ve wanted.”



There’s already been one favourable decision for the committee. In 2002, Ontario Court Judge Peter Hryn threw out all the evidence against the two Pussy Palace organizers who were charged with six liquor licence violations stemming from the 2000 raid. The Crown withdrew the charges after Hryn ruled that the raid had violated the Pussy Palace participants’ constitutional rights. Hryn compared the investigation to visual rape.



Rowe says despite that ruling the Toronto Police Service hasn’t taken the incident seriously. “They need to understand the implications of what happened in September 2000,” says Rowe. “It’s been a pesky little problem for them so far and they really haven’t paid attention to the significance of that issue.



“We all know what’s going on in the police force at this point in time,” she adds, referring to the series of 52 Division police corruption scandals that have recently surfaced. “This is just another example of where there isn’t any public accountability. The police are supposed to be here to protect and serve and in this case it certainly is not what our tax dollars are going toward.”



According to Patricia Grenier, the Human Rights Tribunal Of Ontario’s acting registrar, the next step will be a conference call with the parties on Thu, Jul 15. “Basically the timelines are going to be set up and until those are set up we don’t have a sense of when anything is going to happen.”



Grenier says it’s unlikely the police will choose not to participate in the hearing. “If they don’t take part, a decision could be made without their input…. I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t. Nobody likes a decision to be made without them.”



No information was available from the Toronto Police Service by press time.