Toronto

LGBT liaison officer calls Chief Mark Saunders' bathhouse raids apology a 'huge step'

As a gay woman and a Toronto police officer, Const. Danielle Bottineau understands that her two communities haven't always seen eye-to-eye but she says that Chief Mark Saunders' words of regret for bathhouse raids that took place 35-years ago was a "huge step" in acknowledging a "black mark" in the force's history.

Word sorry 'still might not have been enough for some,' Const. Danielle Bottineau says

Const. Danielle Bottineau says Chief Mark Saunders' words of regret meant a lot to her personally, because she's worked for three police chiefs in her career and Saunders is the first to take that step. (Metro Morning/CBC)

As a gay woman and a Toronto police officer, Const. Danielle Bottineau understands that her two communities haven't always seen eye-to-eye – but she says that Chief Mark Saunders' words of regret about the historic bathhouse raids was a "huge step" in acknowledging a "black mark" in the force's history.

"It hasn't happened too often that one of our chiefs of police has actually stood up in front of a community to say an apology for actions that have taken place in the past," Bottineau told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Thursday.

Bottineau is the service's LGBT liaison officer and organized the Pride reception where the chief expressed his regrets for the raids of four gay bathhouses in 1981. Since Saunders' remarks last night there has been some talk about whether expressing "regrets" amounts to an apology. Bottineau weighed in Thursday morning.

"I think the reality is even if he had used the word sorry somewhere in there it still might not have been enough for some community members," Bottineau told host Matt Galloway. "At the end of the day the words that he spoke, the regret that he spoke was still taking ownership for what we did back in the 80s." 
Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders said the force 'regrets' raids more than 35 years ago that targeted the city's gay community. He said the February 1981 event was dramatic because of its 'destructiveness.' (CBC)

In his remarks, Saunders called the raids "one of the largest mass arrests in Canadian history." The chief said the February 1981 event was notable for its "destructiveness" and that the raids did not occur on only one night.

"The 35th anniversary of the 1981 raids is a time when the Toronto Police Service expresses its regrets for those very actions. 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 said Wednesday night. 

On Feb. 5, 1981, officers armed with crowbars and sledgehammers raided the bathhouses and arrested nearly 300 gay men.

Those who owned or worked in the bathhouses were charged with keeping a common bawdy house and patrons were charged with being found in a common bawdy house. 

It speaks volumes to LGBT members within our service who aren't feeling comfortable being out yet.- Const. Danielle Bottineau, LGBT liasion for Toronto Police Service

More than 90 per cent of the charges were eventually dropped, and the raids galvanized Toronto's LGBT community to fight for their rights and find a political voice.

Bottineau says the words meant a lot to her personally, because she's worked for three police chiefs in her career and Saunders is the first to take that step. The liaison officer also thinks the support and inclusiveness of the chief's words will make a difference in the service.

"It speaks volumes to LGBT members within our service who aren't feeling comfortable being out yet," said Bottineau. "The reality is it has always been a male-dominated heteronormative culture within the policing world.

"I think that has changed quite a bit ... but there's still a lot of work to be done in changing that culture."

Still fear in the trans community 

Bottineau said that while police have come a long way in their relationship with the gay and lesbian members of the LGBT community, there is still a lot of work to be done with the trans community.

Crimes against trans people are "extremely underreported" according to Bottineau, and she said that at least some of that comes from "fear of how they're going to be treated by some of our officers, based on history."

The law is also a problem. 

"When a trans member of the community is attacked on the street it's not considered a hate crime to this day," said Bottineau. "They don't have the same human rights as a lot of us do."

Trans people are not a recognized group under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms so an attack against a person who identifies as trans is not considered a hate crime in the Criminal Code.

But Bottineau is hopeful that things are changing, at least in terms of how a lot of her fellow officers are now willing to have a conversation and be educated about the community.

"I think some of the walls are coming down," she said. "I think they're slowly coming down."

with files from Metro Morning