Canadian Gay History – 1981: Operation Soap and the Infamous Toronto Bathhouse Raids

The Barracks toronto

Well since we will all probably be moving to Canada if a Republican wins the U.S. Presidency I thought it might be good if we learned a bit of the country’s gay history.

April 21, 1981 – In Toronto six people, including activists George Hislop, Peter Maloney and head of Club Bath chain in the United States, Jack Campbell are charged with conspiracy to live off avails of crime by “keeping a common bawdyhouse.” All three men were listed as owners of the Club Baths Toronto.  These were the final charges following the infamous February 5, 1981 bathhouse raids named laughingly by Metropolitan Toronto Police as Operation Soap where over 300 gay bathhouse patrons were arrested.

During the February 5th. raid more than 200 plainclothes police officers raided four Toronto bathhouses leading to the largest mass arrest since the October Crisis ten years earlier. In total, 289 were charged with being “found-ins of a bawdyhouse” and two were charged with “buggery”. Men speaking out in the aftermath of the raids described severe misconduct on the part of the police. Some reported being photographed naked, others said police took down their employers’ names and phone numbers and several men stated that police had referred to them as “queers, faggots and fairies”. Moreover, one man reported that several officers used sledgehammers and crowbars with abandon, smashing windows and breaking down doors. This last fact is corroborated by the $38,000 in damages reported by the four bathhouses after the raid (nearly $100,000 in 2015 dollars). In contrast, the police report stated that the officers behaved in a “professional manner.”

A documentary on the bathhouse raids and the ensuing protests quotes Duncan McLaren, one of the men who was charged as a found-in at the Barracks bathhouse. McLaren describes his victimization by the police:

“We ended up in the shower room and we were all told to strip… But I think one of the most chilling things was… one of the cops said, looking at all the showers and the pipes going into the shower room; he said ‘gee, it’s too bad we can’t hook this up to gas’.”

The following evening, over 3000 members and supporters of Toronto’s gay community united to demonstrate against these raids. A second protest was held on Feb. 20 at Queen’s Park, with over 4000 people gathering to call for increased rights and protection for gays and lesbians in Canada. In the aftermath of the raids, the Toronto City Council commissioned an investigation into community relations between the police and the gay community.

The event marked a major turning point in the history of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Canada; the raids and their aftermath are today widely considered to be the Canadian equivalent of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City  Mass protests and rallies were held denouncing the incident. These evolved into Toronto’s current Pride Week, which is now one of the world’s largest gay pride festivals.

Almost ALL the charges against the 300+ men charges including Hislop, Maloney and Campbell are later dropped in court.


Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, writer, blogger and owner of A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Advocate, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, Raw Story, and The Huffington Post

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  1. June 24, 2016

    […] You can read more about the 1981 Toronto Bathhouse Raids by CLICKING HERE. […]

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