Bathhouse Raids in Canada, 1968–2004

Friday, January 3, 2020: 3:50 PM
Regent Room (New York Hilton)
Tom Hooper, York University
On February 5th, 1981, 200 Toronto police agents swarmed four gay bathhouses and arrested 306 men. This mass arrest is frequently cited in narratives of LGBTQ2+ history in Canada. These raids did not occur in isolation but were preceded by more than a decade of increased surveillance by police of queer communities. This included a smaller raid on a bathhouse called the Barracks in 1978. While Toronto’s experience was the topic of my doctoral research, this presentation examines bathhouse raids across several major Canadian cities, including Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary, and Hamilton. These raids occurred in the decades after the so-called decriminalization of homosexuality in 1969. I argue that this decriminalization is a myth, and that queer people were recriminalized by using antiquated provisions in the Criminal Code of Canada, including the bawdy-house law. From 1968-2004, more than 1,300 men were charged with this offense for being in a gay bar or bathhouse (click here to view chart). I explore the connections between these raids, the community responses to them, and their importance to the collective memory of queer activism and resistance.