A group of women who were strip-searched during a bathhouse raid that targeted an all-female party in 2000 have rejected Wednesday's apology by Toronto police, because they say it isn't meaningful and comes with no real change. 

"We see that the apology is well-meaning and well-intentioned," said Chanelle Gallant, who was there along with about 350 other women on the night of the raid 16 years ago. "But we don't see the apology as being meaningful because it doesn't reflect a change in the actual practices of the police." 

In September of 2000, six male Toronto police officers raided a party at the Club Toronto bathhouse where they barged in on women, many of whom were naked. 

Gallant said the experience was "terrifying and very dangerous" for the women, "in particular members of the bathhouse who were racialized women, migrants, who did not have documentation or status [and] who had children."

JP Hornick was arrested and charged with liquor violations at the time of the raid. She says she has had her share of apologies from police since 2000.

"The police really tore through the place top to bottom asking questions, pulling signs off walls...interrogating us for a fair bit of the night," she said, adding that when she was charged with the violations, police posted them on her communal mailbox.

JP Hornick

JP Hornick says she has had her share of apologies from police since 2000 about the women's bathhouse raid. (CBC News)

"It was very angering. It was an unnecessary attempt to humiliate me."

After months of talks with police, the women who experienced the raid withdrew support from the official event held by Chief Mark Saunders Wednesday where he officially apologized for the police raids conducted on four gay bathhouses across the city in 1981, as well as other Toronto police bathhouse raids. 

Saunders did not single out or specifically apologize for the 2000 bathhouse raids in his remarks at police headquarters during the public apology.

A supportive setting

Organizers said the Pussy Palace party was designed to help women explore their sexuality in a supportive setting.

Instead, male police officers broke it up and laid several charges against the organizers, accusing them of violating liquor laws.

In 2002, an Ontario provincial court judge ruled that police were wrong to raid the party.

The judge dismissed the charges, arguing male officers should never have gone into the Pussy Palace, because it amounted to a strip search of the women and that violated their Charter rights.

In 2005, a class-action lawsuit and complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Commission resulted in a $350,000 settlement, part of which covered legal fees and part of which was donated to charities of the complainants' choice.

The settlement included a formal apology in writing from the male officers involved in the raid to the Toronto Women's Bathhouse Committee, and also required the force to establish sensitivity training for all members regarding the LGBT community.

History of the Pussy Palace

In December, 2001, Gallant described the significance of the event in an article published by Torquere, a journal published by the now defunct Canadian Lesbian and Gay Studies Association. Gallant wrote that the Pussy Palace gave "queer women's pleasure and sexual cultures a higher profile in Toronto."

Club Toronto

An all-female Pussy Palace party held at Club Toronto in September, 2000, was raided by six male police officers. (CBC News)

Loralee Gillis, also one of the organizers, wrote in the same journal that the Pussy Palace was "like a dream."

"We had no clue what to expect. We didn't know whether to expect ten women or one hundred," she wrote. "Much to our surprise, four hundred women stood in the rain for two hours or more to get in."

Gillis wrote that at the time of the raid, she noticed a "palpable change in women's bodies and their demeanor" as they found out the men were present. "Naked women grabbed for towels, clothes or anything to hide themselves from these police officers," she said. 

'It is tokenism'

The apology from Toronto Police for the bathhouse raids indicates an improved relationship between some more privileged members of the LGBTQ community and police, according to Gallant. 

"It doesn't reflect a change in the actual practices of the police. I think it is tokenism," she said. 

With files from Sneha Kulkarni