When the LGLC project team first set out to create a prosopography, or collective biography, of each person mentioned in the chronology, a method for recording arrests was not included. The Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada chronologies are rife with accounts of arrest. Most, if not all of these arrests, involve gay people, organizations, and establishments. 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 events search page. That said, there are a few below that I would like to highlight in particular.
In the events spanning 1964-1975, there are 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. Accounts of some of the more engaging arrests are outlined below.
Edward 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. This incident was certainly a serious one, and one that was very costly to the owners of The August Club.
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. What happened to the other four individuals is unclear.
According to Lauer, the officer who arrested him, 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 Lauer’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). Though Lauer was the one who called the police for help, he was the one who suffered for it — just one of many instances recorded in LGLC’s database of members of the gay community being mistreated by members of the criminal justice system.
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 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.
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.
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 me, and was charged 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). 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. 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. 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. 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).
Klippert’s 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. 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 not passed until 1969, and, worse, Klippert, whose former actions were no longer sanctioned under the law, was kept in prison until 1971, at which point he finally regained his freedom.
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.
It is tempting, despite this recent history, to think of Canada as a country that embraces and defends LGBT rights. While we may have made recent progress, it is important that we remember that homophobia is often explicitly entrenched in law. There are hundreds, indeed thousands of events, many of which record injustice and resistance to that injustice, that together make up the gay liberation movement.
Allen, Kevin. “Calgary’s role in decriminalizing homosexuality in the ‘60s.” Calgary Gay History Project. 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. 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.