The 1981 Toronto bathhouse raids marked a major turning point in the history of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community in Canada.

On February 5, 1981, at 11:00 PM, police in Toronto raided four gay bathhouses. More than three hundred men were arrested, the largest mass arrest in Canada since the 1970 October crisis.[1] Several Toronto bathhouses had previously been raided, and other raids followed.[1] Mass protests and rallies were held denouncing the incident. [2]These evolved into Toronto's current Gay Pride Week, which is now one of the world's largest Gay Pride festivals and celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2005.

Most charges connected to the incident were eventually dropped or discharged, although some bathhouse owners were fined. Canada's "bawdy-house" law, under which the charges in this raid were laid, has never been repealed, but has only rarely been applied against gay establishments since the trials connected to the 1981 raids ended.[1]

At the time it was widely believed that the raids were approved by Ontario Attorney-General Roy McMurtry and the provincial government, however, in a 2007 interview McMurtry said that this was not the case: "The irony of the whole thing was that I had expressed my concern to the chief of police; that it really looked like we were dissolving into a police state. The whole thing looked terrible. Without a doubt, that was one of my most frustrating experiences."[3] McMurtry subsequently served as Chief Justice of Ontario and wrote the Ontario Court of Appeal's 2003 decision in favour of same-sex marriage.



  • February 5: At 11 p.m., more than 150 police simultaneously raid the Club Baths, the Romans II Health and Recreation Spa, the Richmond Street Health Emporium and the Barracks in Toronto.[4] Twenty owners are charged with "keeping a common bawdyhouse"[5]; 286 men are charged as found-ins. The Richmond is so heavily damaged that it never reopens.
  • February 6: Over 3,000 protestors stage a mass demonstration against the raids, blocking traffic at several major intersections.
  • February 11: Gay activist George Hislop announces that he will run as an independent protest candidate in the riding of St. George in the 1981 provincial election.
  • February 16: Metropolitan Community Church pastor Brent Hawkes begins a 25-day hunger strike.[4]
  • February 20: Over 4,000 protestors march from Queen's Park to 52 Division of the Toronto Police.[4]
  • March 6: A "Gay Freedom Rally", effectively Toronto's first Pride event, is held[4]. Speakers, including Margaret Atwood and Svend Robinson, denounce the bathhouse raids. (In 1989, Robinson became Canada's first openly gay Member of Parliament.)
  • March 12: Hawkes ends his hunger strike when Toronto City Council asks the mayor's community and race relations advisor, Daniel Hill, to investigate the bathhouse raids and the larger issue of police relations with the gay community. Hill later declines, but Arnold Bruner takes on the investigation on July 13.
  • March 19: The provincial election is held; Hislop loses to Progressive Conservative candidate Susan Fish.
  • March 30: Charges stemming from an earlier raid at the Barracks go to trial.
  • April 21: Six more people, including Hislop, are charged in connection to the February 5 raid.
  • May 30: A similar raid takes place in Edmonton, Alberta.
  • June 12: The March 30 trial finds two Barracks employees guilty of keeping a common bawdyhouse; three owners are found not guilty.
  • June 16: Police raid two more bathhouses, the Back Door Gym and Sauna and the International Steam Baths, arresting a further 21 men.
  • June 20: Demonstrators protest the June 16 raids; police violence against the protestors is reported.
  • July 3: The New Democratic Party calls for the bawdyhouse section of the Criminal Code of Canada to be repealed.
  • September 24: Bruner's report, Out of the Closet: Study of Relations Between Homosexual Community and Police, is released. It recognizes the gay community as a legitimate community, and calls for a permanent dialogue committee between the community and the Toronto Police.
  • September 30: A man charged with assaulting a police officer at the June 20 protests is acquitted in provincial court; the judge calls for an investigation into police conduct.
  • October 7: Toronto's lesbian community holds its first Dykes in the Street march.
  • November 2: The first keeper trial from the February 5 raids comes before the court. One employee pleads guilty, but is given an absolute discharge; five others have their charges withdrawn.
  • November 20: The head of the Club Baths pleads guilty to conspiracy and is fined $40,000.


  • January 11: The owner of the Richmond Street baths pleads guilty; five other charges are dropped.
  • January 20: Police chief Jack Ackroyd issues a statement that gay people are entitled to "the same rights, respect, service and protection as all citizens", and recognizing them as "legitimate members of the community". Gay leaders note, however, that his statement recognizes gay individuals, but says nothing about the legitimacy of "the gay community".
  • February 6: A demonstration commemorating the anniversary of the raids is held.
  • March 26: One owner of the Back Door Gym is found guilty and fined $3,000; two others are given conditional discharges.
  • June 2: A full-page ad supporting repeal of the bawdyhouse laws, signed by over 1,400 people, appears in The Globe and Mail.

By April of 1983, 87 per cent of the "found-ins" charged in the Toronto and Montreal raids have been acquitted at trial; 36 individuals have been found guilty but received absolute or conditional discharges. The last remaining charge related to the 1981 raids was settled by plea bargain on February 7, 1985.

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 McKenna, Terence. "The Toronto bathhouse raids", CBC RADIO archives, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1981-02-15. Retrieved on 2007-05-11. Template:Languageicon 
  2. Gordon, Rebecca. "Queers in Space: Communities, Public Places, Sites of Resistance." The Women's Review of Books 15.n6 (March 1998): 7(2).
  3. Makin, Kirk. ""The regrets of a consensus-building chief justice: Retiring Roy McMurtry muses about bathhouse, baby death and abortion cases", The Globe and Mail, 2007-04-04. Retrieved on 2007-04-04. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Tattelman, Ira. "Toronto Police Raid Gay Bathhouses", GLBT History, 1976-1987, EBSCO Publishing, 2005-01-01, pp. 127-130. 
  5. Malcolm, Andrew. "TORONTO REJECTS STUDY OF RAIDS ON HOMOSEXUAL BATHS", New York Times, 1981-02-15, p. 15. 

External links Edit

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