Five male Toronto police officers paid an uninvited visit to a lesbian bathhouse just before 1 a.m. yesterday, making an hour-long tour that has infuriated members of the gay community.
No charges have been laid, although police say some are pending as the investigation continues. The police collected the names and addresses of about 10 women and the event continued afterward.
The all-night party at downtown's Club Toronto was the city's first lesbian bathhouse event in a year.
Three hundred women packed the venue which is normally open only to men.
"This is an outrage," said Toronto City Councillor Kyle Rae, who represents the ward where the bathhouse is located.
"An outrage to a community that has established itself as equal but different. The police have not been into a bathhouse investigating a complaint in almost 20 years.
"I'm shaking, I am so angry."
There were plenty of livid women in the bathhouse when the five officers finally left after an hour and 15 minutes.
"This constitutes harassment," said Michelle Hamilton-Page, 32, a consultant. "Clearly we were targeted."
Police said they made a routine inspection, stopping by the club because organizers had obtained a special-event liquor licence which made it like any other bar.
"It's something that's done all the time," said Superintendent Aidan Maher, unit commander of downtown's 52 Division.
He said he had received a report from the officers involved on what they observed and he will be reviewing it Monday morning.
The police inspection reopens the thorny issue of if and how to police morality.
Mr. Rae said that after police raids on bathhouses in the early 1980s sparked widespread anger, there had been a tacit agreement that what went on between consenting adults behind closed doors was not police business.
Supt. Maher said that police must be consistent in the policing of all groups, including the gay community -- but for this community there is baggage.
"[Chief Julian]Fantino has a total lack of credibility and the gay community is well aware of what he did in London," said Ms. Hamilton-Page.
"We're not forgetting, they can do as much PR as they want."
Chief Fantino, appointed in March, brought with him from his days as chief in London, Ont., a legacy of bad relations with the gay community.
There was considerable opposition from gay men and lesbians in Toronto to his appointment, and he has been keen to rehabilitate his image. He has attended a half-dozen events in the city's gay neighbourhood, and played host to a reception at the start of Gay Pride Week in June.
The bathhouse inspection took place just two days before a public meeting aimed at setting up a liaison committee between police and members of the gay, bisexual and transgender communities.
The lesbian bathhouse nights in Toronto began in 1998 and immediately proved wildly popular. Pre-event tickets for this gathering sold out in just 10 minutes.
The plainclothes officers initially said they were there on a liquor inspection. One officer grilled the volunteer organizers, while four more moved through all four floors of the house. They found women, mostly in their 20s and 30s.
They wore everything from lingerie to cowboy outfits to towels, or nothing at all.
They were dancing, sitting in the hot tub and sauna, watching pornographic movies, and swimming in the outdoor pool.