Calgary's gay community is outraged over a police raid that has shut down the city's only gay bathhouse, saying the episode raises painful memories of times when police habitually raided homosexual haunts.
The raid and charges laid last week at Goliath's Sauna & Texas Lounge are out of step with the practices of several major metropolitan police forces, including Edmonton, who say gay bathhouses are not a high law-enforcement priority.
Fifteen men were charged late last week after Calgary police searched Goliath's, a bar and spa operation on the outskirts of downtown. Police charged two employees with keeping a common bawdy house and 13 patrons with being found in a common bawdy house without a lawful excuse.
"It's a total slur to the gay community," said Keith Purdy, who is a bartender at the Texas Lounge. The Texas Lounge continues to operate, but the bathhouse will remain closed until the police investigation is finished.
The charges also seem to be unusual even within Calgary: Mr. Purdy said Goliath's, in business in one form or another for more than three decades, had never been raided before.
Calgary police said they have laid bawdy house charges against other businesses, but all examples publicly available included charges related to prostitution. There are no allegations of prostitution at Goliath's -- indeed, one staff member said the spa had a policy of ejecting anyone who offered to buy, or pay for, sex.
Police spokesman Robert Palmer said the basis of the charges is Goliath's practice of handing out a towel and a condom to patrons who rent a room. The "sauna-tel" charged $22 for the use of a three-metre by four-metre room for six hours.
Mr. Palmer said police launched a two-month investigation of Goliath's only after receiving a complaint about activity there. He said the only concern was whether the Criminal Code had been violated.
Other police forces take a much different view of gay bathhouses, saying they are more concerned with the sex trade on the street than any sexual activity behind closed doors. "If we don't hear a peep from them for years, who's it hurting?" said Wes Bellmore, a spokesman for Edmonton city police, who have not laid charges against any of the city's three bathhouses in nearly a decade.
Mr. Bellmore said his police force would act on any complaint it received about a bathhouse, but questioned who might make one. "Complaints about places like that are rare, because you don't stumble into them by accident."
Goliath's is not easy to find and can be reached through an alleyway entrance, Mr. Purdy said.
A spokesman for Vancouver police said there had been no complaints about, nor charges laid against, city bathhouses in the last five years.
In Toronto -- where bathhouse raids two decades ago still rankle -- police are now inclined to leave the spas alone, seeming to accept that technically illicit sexual activity may be occurring, on the grounds that they are private affairs. "People having a party, that's how we look at it," said Sergeant Robb Knapper of Toronto Police.
Calgary police are stressing their efforts to forge good relations with the gay community, including a dedicated liaison officer and a recruitment program. But Mr. Purdy said the raid has set relations back decades and unearthed ugly memories of a time when gays were targeted by cops. "This is so reminiscent of 1981 in Toronto, it's sickening."