All current and future Toronto police officers will be given gay and lesbian sensitivity training under an unprecedented settlement of litigation that erupted after a controversial bathhouse raid in 2000.
The Toronto Police Service will also pay $350,000 to a group of lesbian complainants, The Globe and Mail has learned. The money will go toward specific charities and to cover legal fees.
The unique settlement ends one of the most controversial events in the fitful history of relations between Toronto police and the city's thriving gay community.
Under the deal, everyone on the 7,260-member force -- from rookie constables to the chief of police -- will be required to take training that pays particular attention to searches involving the gay, lesbian and transgendered communities.
The agreement was approved in camera by the Toronto Police Services Board yesterday and is expected to be finalized today.
The settlement of the civil suit will not be complete until it receives court approval.
"It feels like the end of a very long journey," said J.P. Hornick, one of the complainants. "It has been a gruelling process. On a personal level, I would have to use the word vindication.
"The sensitivity training will happen at all levels -- not just officers on the beat, but the top brass as well," Ms. Hornick said. "The larger battle here is for the police to understand the community they serve. That is the most important and exciting part for me."
On Sept. 14, 2000, several police officers raided a special event known as the Pussy Palace, a lesbian bathhouse, in which 355 scantily clad women were gathered.
When the party was in full swing, two female police officers first slipped inside to check for possible liquor violations, then quickly summoned five male officers.
The officers allegedly entered private rooms and lingered in areas where the patrons' nudity was most evident, including "the sling room" and "the photo room."
Complainants alleged that their feelings of violation and intimidation were akin to being strip-searched.
The Toronto Women's Bathhouse Committee launched a human-rights complaint, and several of its members also initiated a $1.5-million class-action lawsuit.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission announced last fall that it would hold a rare public hearing into the incident -- apparently the first time police had faced a hearing over alleged misconduct in carrying out their duties.
The inquiry could have taken up to two years and involved testimony from dozens of witnesses.
As part of the pending settlement, the complainants have agreed to drop the human-rights complaint and their lawsuit against the Toronto Police Services Board.
Hart Schwartz, director of legal services for the rights commission, said last night that he could not comment on any settlement until it has been finalized.
A lawyer for the complainants, Frank Addario, said he was not authorized to comment. Lawyers representing the police were also unavailable for comment.
Held under a special liquor permit, the Pussy Palace party was the fourth such event to bring lesbians together "to have fun and explore sexuality in a safe and supportive environment."
Police charged two organizers with six liquor violations, including three counts of permitting disorderly conduct.
In 2002, Judge Peter Hryn of the Ontario Court stayed the charges, ruling that the defendants' right to privacy had been seriously violated in a situation that involved no urgent police action.
Madam Justice Janet McFarland of Ontario Superior Court later charged a jury at a defamation trial connected to the raid, stating: "It is no part of a police officer's job to breach the Charter of Rights of any citizen. To do so is misconduct of the most serious kind."
Several officers named personally in the complaint told the rights commission that they mounted the raid after receiving two anonymous complaints alleging drug use, physical violence and inappropriate sexual activity.
Ms. Hornick said last night that she attributes the agreement to a new atmosphere on the services board created by Mayor David Miller.
"Things have changed dramatically under Mayor Miller," she said.
"Before this, there was a real reluctance by the police to look at themselves."