On February 5th. 1981, 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-in a common bawdy house” and 2 men actually being charged with “buggery”.
This week speaking before Speaking before Toronto Mayor John Tory and leaders within the gay community Toronto police chief Mark Saunders issued a long overdue apology for the bathouse raids of 1981 which th Toronto PD called “Operation Soap”.
“The 35th anniversary of the 1981 raids is a time when the Toronto Police service expresses its regret for those very actions,” and called the raids “one of the largest mass arrests in Canadian history” and acknowledged the “destructiveness” of the police action.
“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.” Saunders recognized the successful efforts within the gay community to fight against the long list of charges. Almost all the charges against those arrested were eventually dropped.
“An extraordinary community response led to the eventual acquittal of almost everyone arrested that night,” Saunders said.
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.”
Following the raids, thousands of people rallied outside police headquarters and marched down Yonge Street in a defiant statement of solidarity.
“That was the takeoff point for the takeoff of the Toronto gay community that we know today,” said Brian Mossop was inside a bathhouse that night. “Before that, the gay community — at least the out-of-the-closet gay community — had been very small, only a handful of gay activists. But suddenly vast numbers of people decided they wanted to get involved, and many, many people decided that it was time to come out of the closet.”
The community quickly united. A committee was later formed to help cover legal costs for the 286 men who were charged, reach out to the media and plan further protests. Literary heavyweight Margaret Atwood made headlines when she weighed in on the raids, famously saying, “What do the police have against cleanliness?”
Some newspapers later published the names of the men arrested in the raids.
You can read more about the 1981 Toronto Bathhouse Raids by CLICKING HERE.