Toronto police chief apologizes for '81 raids on gay community

TORONTO – The Toronto police force “regrets” raids more than three decades ago that targeted the city’s gay community, Chief Mark Saunders said Wednesday.

At a Pride reception at police headquarters, Saunders addressed a series of raids of Toronto bathhouses in 1981 that saw officers barge into four bathhouses and round up the people inside.

“The Toronto Police Service recognizes that Feb. 5 of this year marked the 35th anniversary of one of the largest mass arrests in Canadian history,” Saunders said.

The police raids on Toronto bathhouses did not occur on just one evening, he noted.

“But the February 1981 event was the most dramatic in its destructiveness and in the number of men arrested — some 300.”

Those arrested were charged with owning or being found in a common bawdy house.

More than 90 per cent of the charges were dropped in years to come, and the raids galvanized Toronto’s LGBTQ community to fight for their rights and find a political voice.

“The 35th anniversary of the 1981 raids is a time when the Toronto Police Service expresses its regrets for those very actions,” Saunders said.

The chief added that it is also a time to acknowledge the lessons learned about the risks of treating any part of the city’s many communities as “not fully a part of society.”

Saunders made the remarks, flanked by rainbow flags on either side, as part of Toronto’s annual Pride celebrations.

This year, for the first time, those celebrations are spanning an entire month rather than just a week.

Mayor John Tory called it a “good and appropriate” time to acknowledge something that was wrong and he commended Saunders for issuing the apology, calling it timely, right and necessary.

“We can’t leave these sad chapters in our history to just be forgotten about, or in some way to just be unaddressed,” Tory said. “We have to remember, we have to acknowledge and we have to apologize.”

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