On December 12, 2002 over thirty police officers (including female officers), along with representatives from a variety of government agencies, raided Goliath’s Sauna-tel, a gay steambath in Calgary.
Thirteen men were charged as being "found in a common bawdy house without lawful excuse" and the owner, manager, and (originally) three staff members were charged as being "keepers of a common bawdy house."
Of the original thirteen men charged as "found-ins" (a summary conviction, meaning upon being found guilty they would pay up to $2,000 in fines and have a criminal record), twelve opted for Alternative Measures, thereby effectively removing them from the criminal justice system.
Being a ‘keeper’ is an indictable offence, punishable by up to two years in prison.
The remaining man charged as a ‘found-in,’ Terry Haldane, refused to go away quietly. He has launched a Charter challenge, which will seek to have the definition of a common bawdy house as "any place resorted to for acts of indecency" repealed. The attendant definition ("any place resorted to for the purpose of prostitution") is not at issue here and is not being challenged in this case. Those charged as "keepers" are arguing their case on the application of the law, not the law itself.
When there were a series of raids against gay steambaths in Toronto, Montreal, and Edmonton in the period 1979-1981, there was a huge reaction from the gay community across Canada. In fact, those raids are credited with having launched the Canadian gay rights movement.
When the raid against Goliath’s occurred 21 years later, there was hardly a ripple in the local community after the initial shock and surprise. The Goliath’s raid was the first raid against a gay steambath since 1981.
I, along with Keith Purdy (then Co-Chair of Pride Calgary) spearheaded a response to the raid and called for the Calgary Police Service to account for the raid. The Public Relations Unit of the CPS trotted out a variety of excuses and some spin, but no accounting or apology was forthcoming. The raid on Goliath’s was equated with raids on massage parlours and escort services and the sweeps through various "hooker strolls." The Chief of Police, Jack Beaton, refused to meet with us.
On November 17, 2003 – almost a year to the day after the raid – Haldane and the men charged as "keepers" appeared in court to start the trial. Haldane’s lawyers successfully petitioned to have his trial severed from that of the "keepers" since he was challenging the law itself, not just its application in this case. He was to appear December 1, 2003 to have a trial date set.
Two days were spent on dealing with procedural issues until the Crown revealed new information had been brought to his attention two workdays before the beginning of the trial by CPS. What that information might be, nobody seemed to know. Whether or not it is relevant to this case, nobody seemed to know. The detective who possessed the information was unavailable as she was out of the country on a course and nobody knew where her notebooks containing the information were. After some discussion in the court, the case against the men charged as ‘keepers’ was adjourned and the men are to appear back in court December 2, 2003 to have a new trial date set – possibly by next summer.
Even within the gay men’s community, there has been debate around the Goliath’s Raid. Some of us see this as an invasion of gay space and argue that, in the absence of demonstrable harm, the State (i.e. the government and the police) have no business interfering in how consenting adults choose to express their sexuality.
Others argue that establishments like steambaths, backrooms, and sex clubs are an embarrassment to the community and maintain the police "did us all a favour" by raiding such dens of iniquity.
Interestingly, the only Calgary community organization to come forward to contribute to the Goliath’s Defence Fund (set up in January 2003 to help defray the legal costs of those men, now one man, charged as "found-ins") was a predominately heterosexual BDSM/fetish organization known as The Western Leather Federation. The members of the WLF obviously understood the implications such a raid on gay male space had for them.
While individuals both in Calgary and across Canada have contributed to the Defence Fund, and establishments like The Calgary Eagle have likewise been supportive by offering space for meetings and their address for a mail drop, and a significant contribution was made by Cruiseline, a contact phone line for gay men and men who have sex with men owned by the same company that produces the Xtra chain of newspapers for the gay and lesbian community across Canada, the silence from other organizations and businesses in town has been deafening.
There has been a gay bathhouse on that site since the late 1970’s, with Goliath’s buying the previous establishment, renovating it extensively, and opening in the mid 1980’s. The City of Calgary, The Calgary Health Department, The CPS, and other agencies were fully aware of the establishment and what it was – and never expressed any concern for over 15 years.
Steambaths are an integral part of the gay men’s community. They provide a safe, often discreet, and sociable environment for a variety of men (openly gay, closeted, bisexual, etc.) to have sexual – and social – contact with each other. Far from being a "hotbed of infection" as one rightwing, albeit homosexual, apologist described them to be steambaths are recognized, in Canada at least, to be excellent conduits for the dissemination of Safer Sex information.
While perhaps not every gay men’s cup-of-tea, gay steambaths are inarguably a part of our culture and have been for over a hundred and fifty years (for an excellent history on gay steambaths log on to www.gaytubs.com).
Where is the harm in men attending a gay steambath? I would argue there was more harm done by police officers to the men they arrested than not. One man, apparently married and deeply closeted, became violently ill during the raid. The emotional ramifications of the raid on the men are incalculable. Terror. Depression. Anxiety. Shame when there is no cause for shame. That is the legacy of such raids. In the last raid against the Pisces in Edmonton in 1981, one man charged as a "found-in" committed suicide. People’s lives are severely impacted...and for what? Because they went to a gay steambath believing it was legal to do so and that they would be safe?
Whether or not individuals within the gay community, or dominant culture for that matter, "agree" with such establishments is ultimately irrelevant. Does the existence of such establishments contravene community standards? That remains to be seen in court. I would argue that "community standards" would tolerate such environments even while not necessarily agreeing with them or liking having them.
Rather than trying to curry favour with the heterosexual culture by cluck-clucking over such places, I would suggest individuals consider that there, but for the grace of the Deity, go they. If individuals within our community have ever engaged in a threesome, had sex anywhere but their home, used a contact phone line, or picked another man up to take home for sex the State, or its agents, could come after them next. The line just moved a few notches back.