Courtroom ‘dramedy’ shows just how blind city officials choose to be
“For $50, I learned you could ‘relate without getting close.’ For $100, a girl would lend you her Bartok records, have dinner and then let you watch while she had an anxiety attack. For $150, you could listen to FM radio with twins.”
Back when he still had a sense of humour, Woody Allen penned a hilarious short story entitled The Whore of Mensa. In the above excerpt, he pokes fun at both the world’s oldest profession and the real reason why some men are so eager to shell out hundreds of dollars for an hour or two with an attractive young woman.
It’s a joke that appears to be lost on our city’s administrators, a fact of life that has been so laughably demonstrated the past two days at Court of Queen’s Bench.
In the ongoing trail of a 40-year-old former Calgary firefighter charged with living on the avails of prostitution and keeping a common bawdy-house, it’s the straight men in this courtroom “dramedy” who have provided the most amusing moments.
On the stand Monday, the city’s chief licensing inspector, Marc Halat, testified about what he believed to be going on between an escort and what defence lawyer Pat Fagan – another card if there ever was one – likes to refer to as a “gentleman caller.”
“Companionship for discussion purposes; nowhere in the bylaw does it imply otherwise, said Halat.
You have to feel for a guy like Halat. He’s only doing his job, representing an organization pretending not to know what goes on behind close doors.
For those of you not yet in on the joke, a little background is in order. For well over a decade, a city bylaw allowing the issuing of business permits to the agencies, and business licenses to the escorts, has made it possible for escort agencies to operate and thrive in our city. Current estimates have the number of licensed agencies in the city at 10, licensed escorts at 110. The Yellow Pages, however, list no less than 50 such businesses, although city officials say most of those are just the individual listings of escorts attached to approved agencies.
This, despite the fact that everyone from academics to vice police themselves admit that the exchange of sex for money occurs in up to 95 per cent of the “dates” set up through these agencies. It’s a number that has led many to accuse the city of being complicit in the burgeoning sex trade. Not your typical leather-jacketed, gum-chewing pimp, of course, but a rose by any other name, as the saying goes. It’s an argument that hasn’t been lost on people like Fagan, a former RCMP officer turned legal eagle.
He’s asking Justice Patrick Sullivan to stay the charges against his client, arguing the city has in effect legalized the sex trade, making the accused, a man whose career choice, while morally questionable to many, isn’t breaking any laws.
To be cross-examined by the pit bull-like Fagan is to enter into a hellish nightmare. But to watch him question those very city officials responsible for this legalized form of prostitution is, at times, pure entertainment.
During his cross of Halat, Fagan repeatedly asked the witness what he thought the accused’s escort’s rate of $280 included. Some in court muffled guffaws when Halat described dominatrix services as “an overpowering experience” that wouldn’t necessarily involve sexual activity.
In the long exchange that followed, Halat conjectured on everything from dinner and dancing, to simply going for a cup of coffee and a chat, as the possible activities taking place between an escort and her gentleman caller.
But when Fagan brought up the subject of why the city’s excort bylaw included taking the fingerprints of approved escorts, everyone was reminded of the sinister side of the business. “Should an escort be found dead in a ditch,” said Halat, “it would be easier to identify them.”
The family of one young woman has found little to chuckle over during this trial. (A publication ban prevents identifying any of the escorts or other employees at Liaisons, the agency run by the accused) A couple of days before Christmas 2002, their daughter, an escort working for the accused, jumped to her death from an upper floor of a Vancouver hotel.
On the stand Tuesday was a 37-year-old woman who worked briefly in 2002 as a receptionist at Liaisons. She told a chilling tale of the young escort’s troubled life and tragic death, and painted a sordid picture of life in an escort agency. She quit her job, she told court, after “seeing too much” during her shifts. “Drug use at 10 a.m., (one escort) passed out on the couch, people smoking crack.’ “It’s a tough field….You see scary stuff.”
A one-time escort herself, she described her own meeting with the vice squad years before she was applying for her licence.
“They told me I was basically going into a job that allowed sex for money,” she said.
It was a claim later backed up by Kathryn Coonfer, a former civilian employee of the city police vice unit. Coonfer, who told court she’d interviewed “countless” young women applying to be escorts over an eight year period, admitted, “It was my understanding that they understood what they were getting into.”
She’d advise the applicants of the Criminal Code provisions dealing with soliciting for the purposes of prostitution.
One question on the official interview list – “Are you aware of the sexual nature of the industry you are entering?” – hit the point home for anyone still not in on the “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” relationship between city administration and the sex trade. “I could enter into Act 2 of the Halat cross-examination,” Fagan, looking bored and tired, told Sullivan just a half-hour into this cross-examination of Coonfer, “but I don’t see the need.”
After all, even a determined lawyer, dealing with a dead serious subject, knows the danger of milking a bad joke for too long.
Patrick C. Fagan is a highly accomplished lawyer with an impressive career spanning over 35 years in the legal field.