Bathhouses at the mercy of the local police

Civic good will seems to be the only real safeguard baths have against another raid.

Councillor Kyle Rae is making much about the fact that tubs are licensed by the city. This, he explains, keeps the pesky police away – somehow.

“The building inspectors go in,” he says. “Public Health goes in.

The city gives Hassle Free Clinic money to go in and do safe sex work and VD tests.”

But other than community-minded appeals, few boundaries prevent

coppers from rushing in.

In fact, the only thing that seems to be protecting patrons of the

baths against ant spray is a series of quiet little arrangements between the city, tub brass and police.

“There’s been an institutional wedding between the city and the

bathhouses of being able to use them as institutions of information for public health,” Rae says.

Back in 1981, police arrested more than 300 men in vicious raids which resulted in mass demonstrations, a hunger strike, a special investigation into the persecution of the gay community by police and poltiicians – and created the gay rights movement as we know it in Toronto.

But Rae has a different interpretation of history. He says that police were looking for prostitution, underage sex, and drug use when the city’s baths were raided almost 20 years ago.

None of those arrested at that time were charged with such offences.

“So, I think the police have learned that the city has licensed

them, and unless those concerns are there, they have no business going in.”

As assuring as that may be, baths with liquor licences – such as

the Spa On Maitland and Spa Excess – are frequently investigated by

plainclothed undercover types looking for liquor infractions.

So far, however, such inspections haven’t been a problem, and Rae

insists there’s nothing to worry about.

“I cannot see bathhouses being raided,” he says.

But bath magnate Peter Bochove admits that the threat is always

there. His Richmond Street Health Emporium was closed after the 1981 raids.

Despite that, he’s still in the steam business, and he says patrons of the fog shouldn’t sweat criminal sex charges.

“I’m quite sure that it’s over,” he says.

Bochove is now one of the principals of the fancy Spa Excess, and like other tub bosses, he’s trying to keep the peace.

“I didn’t say there was no threat – there’s always a threat.”

Bochove admits that tubs are pretty much riding a streak of

civic good will, and he says that’s enough.

“We’re relying on our history, certainly the city’s good will, not

just from Councillor Rae, but the whole council,” Bochove says.

“Your real question here is whether or not any baths are going to be raided by the police. My answer is absolutely not.”


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