Vancouver
3 min

A history of raids

Bathhouses & the cops

NASTY HISTORY: It's been 21 years since the last major application of the bawdy house laws to a Canadian bathhouse. The 1981 Toronto raid resulted in the politicization of that city's gay community. Credit: Gerald Hannon

It’s been almost two decades since Canadian police forces charged a bathhouse using the antiquated bawdy house laws. Here’s a brief history of police harassment of bathhouses. Toronto has been the main focus of this kind of oppression.



•1969•

At the International Steam Bath, police charge one man as a keeper of a bawdy house. He is found not guilty.



•1973•

Four men at the International Steam Bath are arrested and charged with gross indecency. All plead not guilty.



•1977•

Seven men at the International Steam Bath are charged with indecent assault on a male and performing indecent acts. The Toronto Star prints their names, ages and addresses.



•1978•

Twenty-eight men are arrested at The Barracks. Five are charged as keepers of a common bawdy house, 23 as found-ins. Police use hammers and crowbars to damage the premises.



•1979•

Over several months, police lay bawdy house charges against five gay homeowners who held hot tub and dungeon parties in their homes.



•1981•

In a massive bust on Feb 5 at The Romans, The Barracks, Club Toronto and the Richmond Street Health Emporium, police arrest 266 found-ins and 20 alleged bawdy house keepers. There is extensive property damage with sledge hammers and crowbars and physical and verbal abuse by the police. Police out some of the found-ins to their employers.



On Feb 6, more than 3,000 people gather downtown in angry late-night protests against the bath raids. A police car’s window and headlights are broken, a streetcar’s windows are smashed, two men stand and piss on one car and fisticuffs break out. There are many claims of police brutality. Eleven people are arrested: for assaulting a police officer, damaging public property and for breaching the peace.



On Feb 15, Rev Brent Hawkes begins a hunger strike in order to force the Ontario government of Bill Davis into calling an investigation into the raids; when city council appoints one at day 25, Hawkes eats.



On Feb 20, more than 4,000 people rally at Queen’s Park and 52 Division to protest the raids and call for an inquiry. The slogan “No more shit” is popular.



On Apr 21, police lay charges against bath owners, including conspiracy to possess proceeds obtained from crime, keeping common bawdy houses and selling obscene matter: butt plugs, cock rings, tit clamps and the like.



On Jun 12, a provincial court judge rules on the 1978 Barracks charges. He concludes buggery, fellatio and other gay sex acts are not indecent themselves, but do violate community standards if others can see them. Three employees are found guilty of keeping a common bawdy house; the three owners were acquitted. More than 2,000 people protest the decision that night, with an altercation breaking out with the police; an officer’s hat is stolen.



On Jun 16, the police bust the Back Door Gym and the International Steam Bath and make 21 more bawdy house arrests



On Jun 20, 2,000 demonstrators defiantly hit the streets, holding a sit-in in the middle of Yonge and Bloor streets in an act of civil disobedience. As events progress, scuffles break out with the police; a squad car is rocked, an officer’s shoulder is dislocated and people are arrested.



On Jul 10, law student and journalist Arnold Bruner is appointed by Toronto City Council to file a report on the raids.



On Sep 24, the Bruner report is released, calling for a permanent gay/police dialogue committee, an end to police entrapment and undercover surveillance of gay men, and the recognition of queers as a legitimate minority entitled to legal protection against discrimination.



•1999•

Police repeatedly swoop into The Bijou porn theatre during the summer, laying a total of 33 indecency charges against customers and charging management for obstruction and liquor infractions.



•2000•

On Sep 15, male police officers spend more than an hour visiting the Pussy Palace lesbian bathhouse night at Club Toronto. Charges are laid against two organizers relating to the event’s special occasion liquor permit. An Ontario judge later throws the police evidence out and the Crown is forced to drop the charges. Judge Peter Hryn also censures the male cops for violating the Pussy patrons’ constitutional rights. The judge says women are entitled to a safe space where they can explore their sexuality free from the presence of men.



•2002•

Calgary police resurrect the bawdy house section of the Criminal Code in a raid against Goliath’s Sauna on Dec 12. They arrest 13 found-ins and charge two employees with “keeping” a common bawdy house. Police later charge the owners and manager of the bathhouse as well. Gays and lesbians across Canada are outraged. Calgary activists demand an apology and a pledge to stop policing consensual gay sex.



* with files from Xtra and Xtra West