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The Toronto bathhouse raids

It was a time of protests, legal fights and backlash. With a growing sense of solidarity, gays and lesbians became more visible in Canadian society in the 1960s, '70s and early '80s. Homosexuality gradually became more accepted as more Canadians came out of the closet to demand equality under the law.

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It's the largest mass arrest in Canada since the October Crisis of 1970. One hundred and sixty cops have arrested 286 men in a well-planned raid on four Toronto bathhouses. One night later, thousands gather to protest. CBC Radio reporter Terence McKenna files this piece for Sunday Morning on the raid, the reaction and the aftermath for the gay community, its supporters and its detractors.
• All but 20 of the arrested were charged as "found-ins" — people found without lawful excuse in a common bawdy house. (The rest were charged as keepers of a common bawdy house.) Only one found-in ended up with a criminal record.

• A "common bawdy house" is a Canadian Criminal Code term referring to a place where prostitution or indecent acts take place. It's up to the judge in each case to determine what makes an indecent act.

• The bathhouses sustained over $35,000 in damage from broken doors, kicked-in walls, and shattered glass.

• When one bathhouse was raided three years earlier, 400 hundred people protested. Organizers of the 1981 protest hoped for at least that many, and over 3,000 turned up.

• Over 4,000 people gathered at Queen's Park on Feb. 20 to call for an independent inquiry into the raids, and Brent Hawkes, pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church, undertook a hunger strike for the same reason.

• Novelist Margaret Atwood and NDP MP Svend Robinson (who, seven years later, publicly announced he was gay) spoke out at a March 6 rally, and the Rev. Ken Campbell of Renaissance Canada condemned the raids in the Globe and Mail.

• Despite the protests, the raids continued: four months later, 21 men were arrested in two bathhouses.
• Two years before the raids, Toronto's gay community charged the police with discrimination and asked the force for a statement of policy on minorities, particularly homosexuals. They got no response. Seven months after the raids, Toronto City Council heard the results of a two-month study it had commissioned about police/gay community relations: it recommended a permanent police/gay dialogue committee.

Medium: Radio
Program: Sunday Morning
Broadcast Date: Feb. 15, 1981
Guest(s): Jack Ackroyd, Ken Campbell, George Hislop, Brian Rhodes, Peter Worthington
Reporter: Terence McKenna
Duration: 20:40

Last updated: July 30, 2013

Page consulted on February 17, 2015

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