Toronto

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders to apologize for 1981 bathhouse raids

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders will apologize for the raids on four gay bathhouses across the city 35 years ago, CBC News has confirmed.

WARNING: Video contains offensive language

Warning: offensive language. Raw footage of street demonstrations after the Toronto bathhouse raids in 1981. 2:02

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders will apologize for the raids on four gay bathhouses across the city 35 years ago, CBC News has confirmed.

Saunders is set to make the apology on behalf of his force on Wednesday.

Nearly 300 men who owned or were patrons of the bathhouses were arrested on Feb. 5, 1981, and major damage was done to some of the premises.

The raids galvanized Toronto's gay community, which then organized a series of protests, and led to the city's first Toronto Pride event later that year, on June 28.

Archival footage from a bathhouse that was raided by Toronto police in 1981. Lawyer and activist Clayton Ruby denounces the raids. 0:33

'It was pretty shocking'

Community health advocate Ron Rosenes was at the Roman Sauna Baths with his friends on the night it was raided. He said they all considered it a safe place to gather.

 It was an unbelievable night in the life of a young gay man at the time.- Ron Rosenes

"It was pretty shocking," Rosenes told CBC's Metro Morning on Tuesday.

"I was out on the town in a place that I thought was safe and I was in my room alone at the time when all of a sudden police knocked on the door, and then pushed it in and rounded us all up. It was an unbelievable night in the life of a young gay man at the time." 
The bathhouse raids were 'an unbelievable night in the life of a young gay man,' activist Ron Rosenes says 35 years later. (CBC)

Some of the men were charged with drug offences, while others were given a summons to appear in court, "which was another moment of very humiliating public exposure for something that I really felt was entirely normal and within my own rights," Rosenes said. 

In 1981, bathhouses were a place for gay men to meet to engage in consensual sexual activity, Rosenes said. They were particularly important for men who weren't open about their sexuality. The raids ruined some of their lives, he said.

"I'll be very interested to hear what Chief Mark Saunders has to say about what they've learned in the intervening years," Rosenes said. "It needs to be part of the larger discussion we're currently having around police practices and how they impact minorities, particularly LGBT and racialized communities." 
The raids on four bathhouses on Feb. 5, 1981, led to widespread protests and the city's first Pride event. (CBC)

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