Ottawa LGBT History: The 'Vice Ring' Case

On March 3, 1975, Michel Gravel was arrested for running two male nude modelling agencies that were used as a front for a prostitution service. Allegedly, he was getting leaned on by mafia and went to the police for help, who ended up arresting him instead.

17 of the 18 customers of the agencies were arrested between March 4 and 20, and their names, ages, addresses and occupations are released to the media in connection to the case—published in the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Journal among other national papers and radio stations—which they luridly dub as a 'homosexual vice-ring' or a 'white slavery ring'.

Warren Zufelt, one of the customers, calls Gays of Ottawa's Gayline in distress, warning that if his name is released in the press, he will commit suicide. A day later, on March 18, his name is released and he jumps from his apartment window to his death.

On the 20th, Gays of Ottawa (GO) organized a protest march at both the Ottawa Police Service for releasing the names and the Ottawa Journal for publishing them, blaming them directly for the cause of Zufelt's death. Gravel pleads guilty and is given a sentence of two years less one day.

Although none of the male clients arrested end up serving jail time or are fined, nine either changed jobs or were fired or suspended from their jobs, and eight required psychiatric care because of the barrage of hate mail and calls they received. GO establishes a defence fund to help the accused pay for their legal expenses.

Ron Dayman of GO files a complaint with the Ontario Press Council against the Ottawa Citizen for their sensationalized reporting, and Dayman and Charlie Hill meet with then-mayor Lorry Greenberg to demand an investigation into how the police handled the case.

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