1981 Bathhouse Raids (Toronto)

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In the largest police operation since the October Crisis, 150 city police officers stormed a series of gay bathhouses in downtown Toronto on 5 February 1981, arresting 286 men and charging twenty with keeping a bawdy house. Alarmed by the size and scope of the raids, groups such as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) questioned why the police had focused so much attention on a relatively minor crime. The Ontario Federation of Labour, Labour Council of Metropolitan Toronto, and Ontario Association of Professional Social Workers passed resolutions condemning the raids, demanding an independent inquiry, and reiterating the CCLA call for a civilian complaints system. Although both the Metropolitan Executive Council and the Metropolitan Toronto Police Commission rejected the CCLA’s demands for a public inquiry, a report produced by Toronto City Council on the suggestion of the CCLA condemned the raids. Council called on the solicitor general to organize an independent investigation (a request that was later rejected).

A Toronto Globe and Mail editorial characterized the raids as an “ugly action” and a clear case of discrimination against homosexuals: “This flinging of an army against the homosexuals is more like the bully-boy tactics of a Latin American republic attacking church and lay reformers than of anything that has a place in Canada.” [10, 28 February 1981] Two weeks after the raids, two thousand demonstrators gathered at Queen’s Park to condemn them, and more than 170 police were required to keep the peace. The raids occurred just after the provincial election had been called on 2 February 1981 and would be instrumental in pushing the Conservative government to create an independent commissioner to review public complaints against police officers.