Forty years ago, Yonge Street was better known as the Sin Strip — an artery of downtown Toronto that was home to dozens of strip clubs and body rub parlours, a legal grey zone to which politicians and police often turned a blind eye.
That all changed in the summer of 1977, following the brutal sexual assault and murder of 12-year-old shoeshine boy Emanuel Jaques.
As the 40th anniversary of the boy’s death approaches, academics and advocates are meeting this week to share how it changed Toronto — a ripple effect that touched sex workers, the LGBT community and the landscape of Yonge Street itself.
The shoeshine boy
A familiar face at Yonge and Dundas streets, Emanuel was often seen shining the shoes of passersby with his brother Luciano in the summer of 1977. The brothers used their collective earnings to help their parents support them and the five siblings with whom they’d left Portugal 3½ years earlier.
Emanuel thought he could earn a little more on July 28, 1977, when Saul David Betesh offered him $35 to move photography equipment.
Instead, Betesh, Robert Kribs and Joseph Woods were involved in tying Emanuel up, sexually assaulting him and then drowning him in a sink at Charlie’s Angels massage parlour, according to evidence presented in court in the winter of 1978.
All three would either plead guilty or be convicted of murder.
Roughly 4,000 people surrounded a downtown Toronto church, on Aug. 4, 1977, during the funeral for the slain shoeshine boy. (Alex Kalnins/Canadian Press)
The setting of the crime, however, became the target of furious protests that tore through Toronto.
Emanuel’s body was found on the roof of 245 Yonge St. on Aug. 1, 1977, one of roughly 40 massage parlours running between Bloor and Richmond streets at the time. Their emergence had become a “huge political issue” in postwar Toronto, urban historian Daniel Ross said.
Police guard the doorway leading to a body rub parlour in a building on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto, on Aug. 1, 1977, after the body of Emanuel Jaques was found on the roof of the building. (Alex Kalnins/Canadian Press)
“The murder occurred and there was a tremendous public outcry, and this presented a political opportunity for people who, for years, had been trying to find ways to manage or regulate the sex industry on Yonge Street,” said Ross, who wrote his dissertation on the evolution of Yonge Street.
“And what you have is both the province and the municipal authorities stepping in to launch a law enforcement crackdown … as a response to that outcry, but also to further a municipal agenda.”
It was an agenda the people of Toronto were suddenly firmly behind.
Roughly 15,000 people descended on Nathan Phillips Square on Aug. 8, 1977, calling for a crackdown on the sex industry; some even called to reinstate the death penalty for Emanuel’s killers.
Police responded by raiding massage parlours and strip clubs every night. They arrested the clubs’ owners, employees and some of the patrons, Ross said.
Most of the charges — related to prostitution or running a bawdy house — didn’t stick.
“But it’s a powerful deterrent to have body rubs raided day in and day out by police who themselves are quite angry about this murder,” Ross said.
By Aug. 12, five massage parlours in a one-block radius were locked up, the Toronto Star reported.
Police began nightly raids of the massage parlours that populated the Yonge Street strip. Within two weeks of the slaying, at least five parlours in a one-block radius were closed, according to the Toronto Star at the time. (Jeff Goode/Toronto Star/Getty Images)
Next came the municipal inspectors. They began writing up businesses they had previously ignored for operating without the $3,000 annual licensing fee, Ross said.
More than 200 inspections were performed in the month following Emanuel’s death, according to the historian’s records. And municipal lawyers sought injunctions to keep those businesses closed until the licensing hearings, which cut heavily into their revenue.
And their patrons were already dwindling.
Not all of the massage parlours were shut down, but the majority moved to the suburbs, where they were more discreet and didn’t attract the attention that came with being part of a sex district, Ross said.
The ripple effect
Sex workers became targets, too, of the opinion pages, the police and by those on the street, as they began soliciting there after losing their jobs.
Valerie Scott recalled that she and her colleagues used to walk home alone after they finished their shifts as dancers on the strip. After Emanuel’s death they left in pairs, and took their breaks as a group.
“We were targeted for harassment, we were targeted for violence. I think because the murder was so horrific and people were so angry, there was so much blame to go around that it spilled over to us,” said Scott, who is now the legal co-ordinator for Sex Professionals of Canada.
‘We had nothing to do with that murder, but we paid — and so did gay men.’– Valerie Scott, legal co-ordinator for Sex Professionals of Canada
“We had nothing to do with that murder, but we paid — and so did gay men. They had nothing to do with the murder, but everybody was labelling gay men as pedophiles.”
Those in the LGBT community reported a swift backlash immediately following the murder, one that some academics say culminated in the bathhouse raids of 1981 in Toronto, for which the police chief apologized last year. Hundreds of men were arrested at the time, sparking the community to organize.
Gay rights were just beginning to gain legal recognition at the time of the murder.
The president of the Canadian Homophile Association told the Globe and Mail on Aug. 3, 1977, that he worried the coverage might affect the movement; the Ontario Human Rights Commission had recently recommended including sexual orientation in human rights and discrimination legislation.
It would not be included in the Ontario Human Rights Code until 1986.
A betrayal of the ‘immigrant dream’
For the community from which Emanuel came, his death marked a turning point, as Portuguese-Canadians became recognized as a political force in Toronto, despite having been involved in previous political displays, said GilbertoFernandes, the director of the Portuguese Canadian History Project.
Maria Jaques is helped from a funeral service at a downtown Toronto church for her son. (Alex Kalnins/Canadian Press)
Aldermen began to frequently visit Portuguese communities in Kensington Market and Dundas West, Fernandes said. In the 1978 municipal elections, for the first time, there were Portuguese-Canadians on the ballot.
The Portuguese community received support and empathy from other immigrants across the city at a time, Fernandes said, when Toronto was just beginning to recognize itself as a hub for multiculturalism.
Emanuel’s death resonated so fiercely because it “was a betrayal of the immigrant dream,” he said.
“Here you have a 12-year-old boy dying, being murdered by the very city of opportunity, the so-called city that works, the so-called Toronto the Good,” Fernandes said. “Parents are willing to take very high personal tolls and go through quite a lot just so that their children don’t have to,” Fernandes said.
“Emanuel Jaques then became everyone’s child — this could happen to every one of us.”
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