Before I go any further, I must warn you that some of this post contains references and terminology that some may find offensive or tasteless. It is just my intention in this post to inform and comment, not to titillate. So, with that being said…
As I had mentioned in this post, the city of Toronto is commemorating LGBT Pride throughout the month of June. Just as rights and respect for the LGBT community has never been easy to gain here in the United States, it hasn’t been easy in Canada either. That was particularly the case in Toronto, where the city’s police had a history of raiding bathhouses — or as the Canadian Criminal Code termed it, “bawdy bath houses” — out of the belief that acts of prostitution or indecency were taking place. One such raid occurred in February 1981, when police raided four such bathhouses, using crow bars and sledgehammers to force their way in. Just under 300 men, both bathhouse proprietors and patrons, were arrested — one of the largest mass arrests in Canadian history — though more than 90 percent of the charges were later dropped.
The events of that February night galvanized Toronto’s LGBT community, and it led to a massive protest in the city the following night, with over 3,000 people marching to voice concerns about the police department’s actions. But while the raids did bring LGBT issues to the forefront, according to some, the Toronto Police Service had never issued a formal statement of contrition for the raids. That’s not the case anymore, for today, during Chief Mark Saunders’ annual Pride reception, Saunders issued a statement that included these words:
“The 35th anniversary of the 1981 raids is a time when the Toronto Police Service expresses its regrets for those very actions. It is also an occasion to acknowledge the lessons learned about the risks of treating any part of Toronto’s many communities as not fully a part of society.”
Chief Saunders also noted that the lessons learned from the raids have required the Toronto Police Service to recognize diversity among the many communities that make up the city, LGBT or otherwise, and to build trust with those communities in order to foster “a more inclusive city.”
Whether the statement is one of regret or an outright apology is in the eye of the beholder. Some who were arrested or affected by the 1981 raids say the chief’s statement is a long time coming (one has said that “if it weren’t for the raids, Pride wouldn’t have happened”). Others have termed it “too little, too late.” And there are some women who were affected by another incident in September 2000 — when 6 male police officers raided an all-women party — who have outright rejected the chief’s apology (“tokenism” is what one of the women called it).
Still, one hopes that the words will lead to actions that will build positive connections between city police and the LGBT community. Here’s hoping these words and actions will influence police departments in other cities in their service of their various communities — perhaps even here in Madison, where another unfortunate incident between the city’s police officers and a person of color is making waves.
For the record: The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Digital Archives” has raw footage on that 1981 Toronto bathhouse raid at this link. There’s also an archived report about the raids and its aftermath here.
Oh, and while you’re perusing through those CBC Digital Archive links, you’ll notice that there are a lot more reports and features about LGBT figures and the rights movement in Canada. One such feature is this August 1971 story — almost 10 years before the 1981 raids — about a march on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in support of a brief called “We Demand.” The brief… well, demanded that the federal government change laws and policies regarding gays and lesbians, including allowing them to serve in the government and armed forces and removing any discriminatory references to homosexuals from Canada’s Immigration Act. The report terms the march as “Canada’s first gay rights march,” and mentions the chants and signs in the protest as having a bit of camp born out of frustration.