Criminals in the Eyes of the Law: Arrests in the LGLC Records 1964-1975

Criminals in the Eyes of the Law: Arrests in the LGLC Records 1964-1975

by Sarah Lane

When the LGLC Project team first planned the project’s prosopography, or collective biography, it did not include a method for recording arrests. After having gone through much of volume one of Donald McLeod’s Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada chronologies, however, I noticed that several of the people who were mentioned had been arrested at one time or another for various reasons. Most, if not all of these arrests, involved people, organizations, and establishments found within the gay community. As such, it seemed only appropriate to include arrests in the LGLC prosopography, as they offer real insight into the legal climate of the 1960s and 1970s. You can read about the arrests by searching for the keyword “arrest” on the search page. That said, there are a few below that I would like to highlight in particular.

The collection of arrests have proved fruitful. In volume one alone, I found and recorded thirty-five separate arrests. Of the thirty-five arrests, the charges range from minor infractions (such as contempt of court) to more serious ones (such as indecent assault). Some people were sentenced to pay a fine (with amounts ranging from $25 to $750), others were incarcerated (some for a few days, others for an indefinite amount of time), and a few people were acquitted of all charges. Both the similarities and the differences between all these arrests are very interesting, and so, I would like to tell you a bit more about some of them.

One of the first people I remember including in the arrests section of the prosopography was a man named Edward Knight. Knight was the owner of a gay bar called Le Trique Club, which was located in Toronto. His club was a competitor of another Toronto gay bar called The August Club. In February of 1970, a fire broke out at The August Club causing $15,000 worth of damage. It was believed that Knight had conspired to burn down the club, because it rivalled his own, and that he was responsible for the fire. When this was proven, he was arrested and ultimately sentenced to one year in prison (McLeod 55). This incident was certainly a serious one, and one that was very costly to the owners of The August Club. I did not realize that the rivalry between gay clubs could be so intense. Unfortunately, as far as our research has revealed, neither of these clubs still exists today.

In the case of Edward Knight, his arrest and jail sentence made sense. He committed a crime that no ordinary person could justify or defend. However, in many of the cases mentioned in McLeod’s book, the people who were arrested arguably did not deserve their fate, but were simply victims of circumstance or were unfairly treated because of their homosexuality.

On December 18th, 1965, Kurt Lauer, the manager of the Melody Room, a gay after-hours club in Toronto, called the police because four people were being rowdy and stirring up trouble in the club (Bébout). When the police arrived, it was Lauer who was unexpectedly arrested (McLeod 21). What happened to the other four individuals is unclear.

According to Lauer, the officer who arrested him, one Constable Russell George Wilson, did so because he believed there was a warrant out for his arrest. This later turned out to be false. Wilson, however, claimed that the reason he arrested Lauer was because he found a hammer in the man’s jacket and considered it to be an offensive weapon, which it was a crime to carry. Lauer explained that he had the hammer in his pocket because he had picked it up and put it there in case he needed to defend himself against the four people who were causing trouble at his club (“False Arrest” 25).

From what I have read, Kurt Lauer was never formally charged, and thus, avoided having to serve any criminal sentence or pay any fines. While that is a relief, it still seems absolutely unfair that he was ever arrested in the first place. He was the one who called the police for help, and yet, he was the one who suffered for it. I can only speculate whether or not Lauer’s arrest had anything to do with the fact that Lauer was managing a gay club. For all we know, his connection to the gay community had nothing to do with his unfair treatment. However, I cannot help but wonder if this incident was just one of many instances when members of the gay community were mistreated by members of the criminal justice system.

The next case that I am going to tell you about is much more clearly an example of a situation in which police officers discriminated against members of the gay community.

On January 5th, 1974, four women, Adrienne Potts, Heather Beyer, Sue Wells, and Pat Murphy, were trying to enjoy themselves during karaoke night at a Toronto bar called the Brunswick House Tavern. After being harassed by a male customer in the bar, Potts and Murphy got up and sang a modified show tune called “I Enjoy Being a Dyke”. According to archival records, their song upset many of the other patrons and chaos ensued. The four women were told they had to leave (even though they, presumably, were not the only ones involved in the uproarious situation), but they refused. The police were then called and they forcibly removed the women from the premises and took them to a local police station. The women were, reportedly, further harassed while in police custody, but were released a few hours later. Understandably enraged, they returned to the Brunswick House Tavern after leaving the police station. Upon their arrival, they were once more thrown out of the building and detained by the authorities. This time, however, three of them were formally arrested and charged with creating a disturbance and obstructing the police (McLeod 149).

Similar to the case with Kurt Lauer, it seems like the wrong people were reprimanded in this situation. Although these women, who came to be known as the Brunswick Four, may have been “causing a scene” or “overstaying their welcome”, they were also the ones who were most victimized throughout the course of the evening. They were verbally (and possibly physically) harassed by a male customer in the bar, but they were the ones who were told to leave (not coincidentally after their lesbian-themed performance). And later, when the police were called, they were the ones who were forcibly taken out, harassed some more, and ultimately arrested.

I would like to conclude with the prosecution of Everett George Klippert. In the late 1950s, Everett George Klippert was in his thirties and living in Calgary, Alberta. For many years he had been attracted to and sexually involved with other men, which was considered illegal at the time. Unfortunately, the authorities discovered his same-sex activity and arrested him. They charged him with gross indecency, an old and vague legal term used to describe supposedly indecent sex acts committed between men (Allen; Copley). Klippert was sentenced to four years in prison for his so-called crimes (Allen).

After he was released from prison in 1960, Klippert moved to Pine Point in the Northwest Territories where he found work with a mechanic (Allen). Presumably things went well for him in Pine Point, at least for awhile, but after five years, Klippert tragically found himself in trouble with the law again. In August of 1965, Klippert was brought in for questioning regarding a series of fires that had been set in Pine Point. It is not clear why the police suspected him, but he certainly was no arsonist. Regardless, while he was being questioned, his relations with other men somehow became a focus of the interrogation (Mcleod 20). It is possible that he mentioned his sexual history as a part of an alibi to prove that he was not responsible for the arson. Yet, whatever the reason was, by admitting that he had had sexual relations with other men, Klippert ended up incriminating himself.

Having admitted to engaging in consensual sex with four other men (in private), something which was still considered criminal at the time, Klippert was charged with four counts of gross indecency and sentenced to twelve years in prison (McLeod 20). If that was not already terrible enough, a few months later, a psychiatrist appointed by the court labelled Klippert as a dangerous sexual offender, which meant that he could now be kept in prison indefinitely (Allen). He was given this designation because considering his previous and lengthy history of sexual relations with other men, it was believed that he would be very likely to continue such behaviour if he were to be released. Even though he never hurt anyone or forced himself on any man, the judge who presided over his case felt that there was ample justification for keeping Klippert in prison for the foreseeable future (Klippert v. The Queen 822).

Thankfully, and as one would hope, when the public found out about Klippert’s case, few could believe what had happened and there was general outrage that anyone could be treated as Klippert had been (Allen). His story was circulated through various media outlets and caught the attention of politicians across the country. One such politician who was struck by the injustice of Klippert’s case was the then Justice Minister, Pierre Trudeau (McLeod 32). At least in part due to the Klippert case, Trudeau introduced Bill C-150 as an amendment to the Criminal Code, which would legalize homosexual acts between consenting adults (Allen). Bill C-150 was unfortunately not passed until 1969. Worse, Klippert was kept in prison until 1971, at which point he finally regained the freedom that had been so unfairly taken from him (McLeod 32).

For those of us who came of age in the late 20th century, it is difficult to imagine a time when a man could be held in prison simply for having shared in some intimate moments with other men. However, that was the reality of life for many Canadians barely fifty years ago. Klippert regained his freedom and lived to see the law changed for the better. I can only imagine how many other gay men were arrested and imprisoned before him and did not live long enough to reclaim their lives and freedom.

As Canadians we often think of ourselves as belonging to a progressive and accepting country, especially in the area of LGBT rights. While we may have made recent progress, it is important that we remember that things were not always so inclusive and that there was a time when homophobia was explicitly entrenched in the law. Lesbians and gay men were often mistreated and prosecuted under the law simply because of their sexual orientation. Yet, many of them stood up for themselves and their friends, defiant in the face of injustice. It is because of them that our legal statues have changed for the better and for that we must always remember their arrests


Works Cited

Allen, Kevin. “Calgary’s role in decriminalizing homosexuality in the ‘60s.” Calgary Gay History Project. Wordpress, 17 Oct. 2012. Web. 19 Aug. 2015. http://calgaryqueerhistory.ca/2012/10/17/calgarys-role-in-decriminalizng-homosexuality-in-the-60s/

Bébout, Rick. “Geneology.” On the Origins of The Body Politic. 5 Oct. 2003. Web. 19 Aug. 2015. http://www.rbebout.com/oldbeep/geneo.htm

Copley, Hamish. “The Gross Indecency Law in Canada.” The Drummer’s Revenge: LGBT History and Politics in Canada. Wordpress, 29 May 2008. Web. 20 Aug. 2015. https://thedrummersrevenge.wordpress.com/2008/05/29/the-gross-indecenency-law-in-canada/

“False Arrest, Assault Untrue, Officer Says.” Toronto Daily Star 17 Apr. 1968: 25. Web. 19 Aug. 2015.

Klippert v. The Queen. S.C.R. 822. Supreme Court of Canada. 7 Nov. 1967. Judgements of the Supreme Court of Canada. Web. 20 Aug. 1025. http://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/4738/index.do

McLeod, Donald W. Lesbian and gay liberation in Canada: a selected annotated chronology, 1964-1975. Toronto: ECW Press/Homewood Books, 1996. Print.