Thursday, March 13, 1997

Kirk Makin
Justice Reporter

p. A1.

Lap dancing an indecent act, top court rules

Verdict puts onus on police to enforce ban on erotic contact in Canadian bars

TORONTO -- The term lap dancing became a historical curiosity yesterday when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that it is indecent to for strip clubs to let customers pay naked dancers to gyrate on them.

Yesterday's decision, issued orally without written reasons, brought to a grinding halt an activity that spread across the country after a 1993 ruling in Toronto.

While the Supreme Court decision effectively prohibits lap dancing, the court reserved its ruling yesterday on whether the owner of Cheaters Tavern strip club on Yonge Street in Toronto, Patrick Mara, is criminally liable for what went on within his establishment.

Both Mr. Mara and club manager Allan East were charged with allowing an indecent performance. Yesterday's decision upheld Mr. East's conviction.

With lap dancing now designated a criminal act, the focus of public attention is expected to shift to the degree of diligence police use in enforcing the law.

"I won't feel settled until I see some action by the police," said Katherine Goldberg, a former stripper who has lobbied against lap dancing since she was purportedly run out of a Toronto strip club because of her resistance to the practice.

"When I heard about the decision, I thought I was dreaming," she said in an interview. "I had been fretting about where I would go from here if they ruled against us. But the decision won't mean much if the police don't enforce it."

Even should a police crackdown ensue, the other factor to be reckoned with is the remarkable ingenuity of strip-club owners. In the past generation, they have repeatedly found fresh ways to skirt legal prohibitions in their running battle against the law.

The lap-dancing saga began in earnest in 1993, when Judge Gordon Hachborn of the Ontario Court's Provincial Division ruled that the wide array of sexual acts taking place in the dark confines of Cheaters did not offend community standards.

p. A17.

Supreme Court prohibits lap dancing

At the time, lap dancing was a relatively discreet underground activity. It quickly became a more overt feature of the clubs and spread across the country.

Meanwhile, Judge Hachborn's decision wound its way through the courts. Last year, the Ontario Court of Appeal stated in the strongest terms that Judge Hachborn had misread the feeling of the community.

The court ruled that lap dancing is dangerous, humiliating and not far removed from outright prostitution. "It degrades and humiliates women and publicly portrays them in a servile and humiliating manner as sexual objects, with a loss of dignity," Ontario Chief Justice Charles Dubin wrote on behalf of the court.

"It dehumanizes and desensitizes sexuality and is incompatible with the recognition of dignity and equality of each human being."

The court concluded that context is everything when it comes to indecency. "Conduct not indecent in some circumstances -- such as in private -- may become indecent by reason of surrounding circumstances and the context in which it takes place, " it said.

The appeal court went so far as to indict lap dancing for corroding the social fibre, inducing customers to behave as if it were socially acceptable behaviour to treat women as sexual objects.

Ms. Goldberg, along with her husband and friend, Charles Goodman, has spend countless hours over the past few years lobbying municipal councils about the conduct going on in local clubs.

Thanks largely to their efforts, about 50 municipalities across the country have passed bylaws prohibiting any form of physical contact between strippers and their customers.

Mr. Goodman said in an interview yesterday that he has developed more faith in municipal bylaw officers than in police.

Police typically prefer to act on actual complaints, Mr. Goodman said. They also look for a high standard of evidence before laying a criminal charge. He said bylaw officers, on the other hand, can patrol clubs and hand out summonses with a minimum of fuss.

"No touching means no touching," Mr. Goodman said. "It's simple. The problem is when you start to allow any touching it becomes impossible to stop other things going on."

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Created: April 9, 1997
Last modified: April 9, 1997

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