Toronto
2 min

Undercover cop just did her job

Cara Gillis may be only hooker ever arrested for servicing another woman

LEGALITIES. Women's bathhouse dancers must figure out what's allowed - and what's not. Credit: Jennifer Gillmor

The lapdancers at the last women’s bathhouse did it all for free – and that may have saved them from legal hassles.



But clients and sex workers are unclear on how the laws apply to same-sex exchanges.



“If I’m lapdancing for a female customer and I get too close, can I be charged the same way? How close is too close?” asks Missy, a dyke and dancer.



The Supreme Court Of Canada ruled in 1997 that lapdancing (with contact) is an indecent theatrical performance.



Part of the definition of such a performance includes the harm done to the performer because she is objectified as a woman.



Whether the courts would rule that gendered degradation exists if the client is also a woman is unknown. So far no dancer has ever been charged under the municipal by-law – nor for violating the law when her customer has been female.



“Technically the laws apply across the board,” says Cara Gillis, a prostitute and sex workers rights activist. “No one has ever brought it to court though.”



Women have been busted for communicating with or receiving the services of a female prostitute – but it is rare. “I’m the only one I know,” giggles Gillis.



“I was arrested for keeping a common bawdy house and had three undercover police investigate my massage parlour. One of them was a woman who posed as a customer. Other than that, the only other case was a woman who was busted for approaching a female cop who was posing as a hooker.”



“The thing is,” says Montreal activist Anna-Louise Crago, “cops don’t need much of a reason to raid clubs. They can come in and maybe see a dancer get a little close, then they can come back anytime and bust the club. It doesn’t matter what’s really going on. The bathhouse could probably be raided whether or not anyone was charging anything.”



All burlesque entertainers in Toronto are required to purchase a licence – much like a vendor or taxi driver. Although this may seem like a recognition of the legitimacy of the industry – or potential protection – it is most often a way for the city to profit and monitor those in the business.



Arrested dancers usually get charged with a by-law infraction, or sometimes a Criminal Code violation. Both result most often in a heavy fine or community service and the potential refusal to renew your licence.



Dancers or erotic massage attendants who volunteer at the women’s bathhouse could be charged if:

• they work for a specific payment

• are unlicensed and perform acts deemed “indecent” according to community standards (like full-contact dancing).



Under those specific circumstances, the bathhouse could be charged under the bawdy house law.



Dykes have a long history of being involved in the sex trade as workers for men, but bathhouses, strip clubs, porn sites and magazines by and for dykes have been steadily on the rise in the last decade.



Some dyke sex workers are excited at the possibility of this new demographic, and other women are excited to be on the buying end.

How this all works out legally remains a big question.



“We’ll have to wait and see until a woman sets the precedent in court,” says Gillis.