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Par Brenda Branswell, Toronto Star, 16 novembre 2002

Swingers defend right to free sex `There is no law (against) orgasms'

MONTREAL—The irony is inescapable. Club L'Orage International, the popular Montreal swingers' hangout where many people park their inhibitions at the door — if they had any to start with — is located in a former bank, the most conservative of institutions.

The stone building is now the scene of much livelier activity with dirty dancing, nudity and more clutching and grabbing than the National Hockey League ever allowed. "We're sort of a temple of tolerance," says owner Bernard Corbeil, a Montreal lawyer.

Welcome to the hedonistic shrine, where the once sobre bank vault looks like a nifty love nest with flickering candlelight. Where exhibitionists are driven by the urge to hop up on to the bar and peel off their clothes. Slipping into slang, Corbeil says patrons find the atmosphere: "sexy en tabarouette," extremely sexy.

Despite police raids on swingers' clubs in the late 1990s, and an ongoing court case that resumes next month, swinging shows no signs of disappearing from Montreal's sexual landscape. In fact, Jean Hamel, the head of the Quebec Swingers' Association, thinks the raids in the Montreal area actually enhanced its popularity.

"It put swinging on the map," says Hamel. "It gave birth to swinging as we know it today in Montreal. If there hadn't been the raids, it would still be underground."

Club l'Orage openly proclaims itself a swingers' fantasy hangout in bold red letters on the sign out front. "We're almost up to 10,000 members in less than two years," says Corbeil.

Hamel reports that the swingers' association Web site receives more than 1,500 hits each week.

And there are other activities for swinging couples. Hamel operates the "Montreal Sexy Boat" excursions on the St. Lawrence River, billed as "kinky cruises for open-minded couples."

He sold out all 15 cruises last summer and readily admits that people engage in sex during the five-hour cruise.

"There are a lot of people who try the Titanic position," he offers unprompted, referring, one hopes, to the scene in the blockbuster movie where actress Kate Winslet stands at the bow of the ship holding her arms out in the air.

In the late 1990s, police raided a handful of swinger hangouts, including Club l'Orage, which had different owners and a different location at the time.

But group sex and partner swapping rank low on the priority list for Montreal police. They respond to complaints from the public, according to Commander Jacques Robinette of the alcohol, drugs and morality division.

But, he adds, "we can't go into a club simply because we know people will be nude at some point. (If) the people are consenting in a closed place, out of sight from the public and children and there are no juveniles involved, in that case the police have no place there."

The court case that resumes Dec. 6 involves 15 people charged with running a bawdy house or being found in one. Prior to the 1999 raid at Club Brigitte et Michel, undercover police filmed patrons having sex in a whirlpool and sex without condoms. (Defence lawyer Martin Joly disputed the last point in court, noting: "It's dark in there — how do we know whether they're wearing condoms or not? Condoms aren't red or black. They're transparent.")

"There is no victim here," Joly insisted. "No one was forced to do anything. Everyone there knew what was going on and knew what to expect."

The prosecution, which has yet to summarize its case, argued that activities at the club were indecent according to norms of Canadian society. Joly countered with a nationwide survey by the Montreal polling firm CROP. Conducted last spring, the poll found that more than half of Canadians and 74 per cent of Quebecers were not troubled by swingers' clubs, provided they do not bother anyone.

The presiding judge, however, questioned if there is a difference between activities at Club Brigitte et Michel and an orgy, which Canadians disapproved of in the poll.

Ron Michaels, director of the Toronto-based Club Eros, notes that swingers' clubs in Quebec often operate differently from their Ontario counterparts. Club Eros, which calls itself the largest swingers' organization in Canada, is "off premise," meaning that members engage in sex elsewhere. Conversely, Michaels says, Quebec clubs sometimes maintain an apartment or space adjacent to their establishment for people to engage in sex.

Corbeil operates l'Orage as a private club where patrons must purchase a membership. "There is nothing illegal about swinging," he maintains. While a bawdy house is illegal, "we don't have prostitution," he says.

The Criminal Code does not define an indecent act, generally considered behaviour that goes against community standards.

If the Supreme Court permits women to lap dance in bars while patrons touch their breasts and buttocks, Corbeil argues, "women who want to do it for free should at least have the same right. And if they have the right, it requires a place. And the place is l'Orage."

At 8 p.m. on Saturday night, Hamel hosts an information session at l'Orage for prospective members. Inside, the club is an interior decorator's nightmare, a clash of old and inexpensive with an exposed metal pipe hanging from the sculpted ceiling and a glittery disco ball dangling over the dance floor. A room downstairs is off limits to journalists.

Ten people show up. They seem to range in age from their early 20s to late 40s.

François, 41, and his petite partner Pierrette, 39, a stay-at-home mother of four, sit glued together on a couch. Later, an attractive, articulate 30-something couple breeze in without a hint of embarrassment.

Luc, 44, a Quebec civil servant previously involved in swinging, is here alone. He concedes that the practice bothers some people. "We pass for perverts," he says mildly, but adds, "I like fantasies. There is a lot of exhibitionism. The people are nice."

Like other swingers, Luc says he uses protection and does not fear contracting a sexually transmitted disease or HIV.

With a threesome experience under their belt, Pierrette and François want to learn more about swinging. "We've been thinking about it for a few years," says François, a soft-spoken electrician. They discount the possibility of getting jealous at seeing the other intimate with someone else. "We find that exciting," says Pierrette.

Dressed in black, Hamel runs them through swinger etiquette. The cliché "do you come here often?" is actually useful when approaching people at a swingers' club: As Hamel explains, it reveals if the person is a first-time visitor to the club. They may be fearful and nervous, he says. The second question he suggests is: "What did you come here for?" Seconds later, he jokes: "People don't come here for Scrabble."

But a game of Twister might not be out of the question.

During the two-hour session, he advises that swingers must respect each other, set aside jealously and not do anything they don't want to do just to please their partner. Using a condom is obligatory swinger etiquette in Quebec, he says.

After they sign up for memberships, the 10 file into the vault where Corbeil lays out the limits: while sex is prohibited upstairs in the club, frisky behaviour is de rigueur.

Surprisingly perhaps, after two decades of swinging, Hamel finds the milieu has become less sexual. Only a small percentage of swingers — he estimates 20 per cent — go so far as having intercourse with strangers. A lot of people at clubs like l'Orage, he says, are content with "caresses, dancing closely or exhibitionism without having sexual relations with people." About 25 per cent are voyeurs, he says.

Americans gravitate to the club during the summer, drawn to the city, the friendly atmosphere and more svelte swingers, he says. Hamel has taken part in swingers' events in different parts of the U.S., where "I don't want to be mean, but 70 per cent of the clientele is fat."

Corbeil is involved as a lawyer in five legal cases involving swingers, including Club Brigitte et Michel. He believes the public now understands that swinging "is simply part of a natural human need to have variety and novelty."

He later puts it another way: "There is no law in Canada that prohibits someone from having a certain number of orgasms or partners."

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