Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders has apologized for the 1981 bathhouse raids, saying the ordeal shows the risk of alienating the city’s LGBQT community.
“The 35th anniversary is when the Toronto Police Service expresses its regrets for those very actions.”
He said the raids show “the risk of treating any part of Toronto’s many communities as not fully a part of society.” He pointed to one of the bathhouse raids, which rounded up some 300 people, as “the most chaotic in its destructiveness.”
Saunders said police have made “real progress” in becoming more tolerant and inclusive, but that there is still more work to do.
“We recognize the need for a renewed commitment to work together cooperatively and respectively with other marginalized groups and still-disadvantaged sexual minorities,” Saunders told a Pride reception at police headquarters Wednesday night.
Gay activist Rev. Brent Hawkes, speaking after Saunders, thanked the chief for the apology, but also noted how harmful the raids were.
“The raids on the baths 35 years ago and subsequently have been among the low points in the relationship between the LGBT community and the Toronto police,” he said.
“While we honour those arrested I also honour the work that’s been done inside the Toronto police service to improve the relationship,” Hawkes added.
Saunders announced two new initiatives to strengthen ties with the LGBT community: opening gender-neutral washrooms in police HQ and in new buildings and a police service guide for the trans community.
Speaking before Saunders, Mayor John Tory said of the apology, “it is a good and appropriate time in our community to acknowledge something that was wrong.”
On Feb. 5, 1981, 150 plain-clothed and uniformed police officers raided four bathhouses after a six-month investigation dubbed “Operation Soap” — which led to close to 300 arrests. Nearly all of those charges were later dropped.