Monday, September 13, 2004

Gay Advocate Calls for Looser Sex Laws

Sep. 4, 12:19 EDT
Consensual sex no one's business
Joseph Couture
The Hamilton Spectator

Some people change with the times and some don't.

The "don't" side periodically tries to roll the clock back to its version
of the good old days. Gays have seen it again, this time with another raid
on a gay business.

On Aug. 3, police, fire and health inspectors raided a gay bathhouse in
Hamilton known as The Warehouse Spa and Baths.

Owner Jaime Bursey says two clients were arrested, handcuffed, manhandled
and stripped naked in front of female officers. The two men were charged
with indecency under the Criminal Code.

The bathhouse was ticketed for not posting a no-smoking sign and for
having ashtrays out.

The justification for the raid is supposed to be that the police received
complaints. They won't say who complained or what they complained about.

Gays in Hamilton and Toronto are having flashbacks to the old days. They
remember all too well that day in 1981 when police showed up at the doors
of the baths there with sledge hammers and hauled 286 men off to jail.

Such a massive attack was a strategical error. Instead of trembling with
fear, gays and lesbians marched in the streets and fought as they'd never
fought before. It wasn't the crushing defeat some hoped it would be; in
fact, it was a turning point, a revitalization of the gay rights movement.

Since then gays and lesbians have achieved unprecedented acceptance. I
would say a significant majority of the straight people in Canada have
changed with the times and learned to co-exist peacefully -- but not
everyone.

Empowered by archaic laws from Victorian England, police can persecute
people for doing things they just don't like.

The Criminal Code, section 210, says anyone who keeps a common bawdy house
is liable to two years in prison. A bawdy house is a place where acts of
prostitution or indecency occur. Nowhere is indecency defined.

The indecency laws are under section 173 and say that anyone who willingly
commits an act of indecency in the presence of another person or with the
intent to insult or offend another person is guilty of an offence.

What all this means is up to our judges. It's for them to decide if the
acts are tolerated by society at large.

Gay leaders don't believe that what consenting adults do behind closed
doors is indecent or anyone else's business. They also say that equality
goes both ways and that heterosexuals should also have laws governing sex
between consenting adults repealed.

For many years after the 1981 raids, bathhouses were left alone and
operated quietly without incident across Canada. It shows community
tolerance that there has never been any kind of outcry from the public to
shut the places down.

But in 2000, male police raided a women-only bathhouse event in Toronto.
The officers saw close to 300 naked or partially nude women and laid
charges of violations of the liquor licence act.

Ontario Court Judge Peter Hryn threw out the evidence because he found
that using male police to raid the event violated the women's
constitutional rights.

Then, in 2002, Calgary police raided the Goliath Sauna for men and laid
bawdy house charges.

Now, in 2004, gays and lesbians once again have to defend their sexuality
from attack by ultra-conservative forces.

It's time to take away a legal club used to bash liberal adults (gay and
straight) by repealing antiquated laws used to persecute them. Times have
changed and the Criminal Code needs to change with them.

(Joseph Couture is a Toronto writer.)