Towels, cubicles & handcuffs we have known

The bathhouse raids of 1981 were a defining moment in Toronto, mostly because they were so nasty. But they didn’t happen in isolation. Here’s are some quick takes on a few decades of state intrusion into queer sex spaces.

May 15. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau legalizes homosexuality and declares, “The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.”

Jun 27. Patrons at the Stonewall Inn in a Greenwich Village, New York gay bar fight back against police harassment.


Feb 4. Police raid Montreal’s Sauna Aquarius charging 36 people for being found in a common bawdy house.

Mar 4-20. The “Ottawa sex scandal” sees 18 men charged with sexual offences after a crackdown on a dating service; police call it a “homosexual vice ring.” Warren Zufelt, one of the charged men, commits suicide after his name is published in the paper.

October. Montreal police raid seven bars, including Baby Face, a lesbian bar.

Jan 23. Thirteen people are charged as found-ins after police raid Montreal’s Club Baths. It is raided again on May 20; 26 men are charged.


May 14. Nineteen men are arrested after a raid on Montreal’s Neptune Sauna.

May 22. A raid on Ottawa’s Club Baths sees 27 men charged.


Oct 22. Montreal’s police raid Truxx, yet another gay bar. They charge 146 men. The next day 2,000 people demonstrate on the streets of Montreal.


Dec 9. Toronto’s Barracks steambath is raided by police. Twenty-three men are charged as found-ins and five, including George Hislop and Andy Fabo, are charged as keepers. In response, the December Ninth Committee is created, later becoming the Right To Privacy Committee.

Oct 11. Toronto police raid Toronto’s Hot Tub Club and charge 40 men.


Apr 23. Montreal police arrest 61 men following a raid at Sauna David, a gay bathhouse. Demonstrations take place a few nights later.


Feb 5. More than 150 Toronto police raid the Club Baths, the Romans II Health And Recreation Spa, the Barracks and the Richmond Street Health Emporium. Twenty owners and managers are charged with keeping a common bawdy house; 286 men are charged as found-ins.

Feb 6. After a quick day of strategizing activists call for a protest beginning at midnight. More than 3,000 people stage a mass demonstration against the raids, blocking traffic at several major intersections.

Feb 16. Brent Hawkes, pastor at Metropolitan Community Church, begins a hunger strike to force an inquiry into police actions. It lasts 25 days before City Council agrees. Arnold Bruner agrees in July to take on the investigation after Daniel Hill, the mayor’s community and race relations advisor, declines.

Apr 21. The final charges stemming from the Feb 5 raids are made; Hislop, Peter Maloney and Jack Campbell, head of the Club Bath chain in the US, along with three others are charged with conspiracy to live off avails of crime. Campbell later pleads guilty to conspiracy and is fined $40,000.


May 30. Edmonton police raid Pisces Spa resulting in 60 men being charged as keepers or found-ins. GATE-Edmonton quickly organizes leafleting of bars and 100 people demonstrate in front of city hall a few days later.

Jun 12. Two Barracks employees are found guilty of keeping a common bawdy house; three owners are found not guilty in charges stemming from the December 1978 raid.

Jun 16. Toronto’s Back Door Gym And Sauna and the International Steam Baths are both raided resulting in a further 21 arrests. Police violence against protestors is reported at a demonstration held a few days later. In March 1982 the owner is found guilty of keeping common bawdy house and is fined $3,000. Two others are given conditional discharges.

Sep 24. Bruner’s report Out Of The Closet: Study Of Relations Between Homosexual Community And Police is released. It calls for a permanent dialogue committee between the police and the gay and lesbian community.


Jan 11. A manager at Toronto’s Richmond Street baths pleads guilty; charges against five others are dropped as part of a plea bargain.


By April, 87 percent of the found-ins charged in either Montreal or Toronto raids have been acquitted at trial; 36 individuals have been found guilty but receive absolute or conditional discharges.

Apr 20. The Back Door Gym And Sauna is raided again and 17 men are charged. More than 1,000 people protest three days later. The warrant used in the case is declared invalid on Oct 3, 1984.


Jun 2. Montreal police raid the bar Bud’s where eight men are charged as bawdy-house keepers, 122 as found-ins and another 33 with gross indecency.


Hislop testifies in a court case that forces the city to issue a building permit to the Spa On Maitland, acknowledging it as a premises where gay men meet for sex. This opens the door for more baths to apply. Judge Casimir N Herold refers to Hislop as “a habitué of gay bathhouses for the past four and a half decades.”


Feb 9. Remington’s, a gay strip club, is raided and morality squad officers charge 19 men as keepers, inmates or found-ins of a common bawdy house. Some dancers are charged with indecent performance.


Starting Jun 13. Toronto police repeatedly raid the Bijou, a gay porn theatre/bar; 19 men are arrested for committing indecent acts. The Crown says it eventually withdrew most of the charges.


Sep 14. Police raid Club Toronto on a night when women have taken over for their regular Pussy Palace event. Two female undercover officers inspect the premises for criminal acts and call in male police officers, who tour the premises while women are in various states of undress. Two organizers are charged with several liquor related offences.


Jan 31. Justice Peter Hryn quashes all the evidence gathered for liquor licence charges against two Pussy Palace organizers, resulting in the Crown dropping the case. Hryn says the police, by sending male officers into a women-only space, violated the rights of oranizers and patrons and put “the administration of justice in disrepute.”

Dec 12. Calgary police raid one of that city’s oldest baths, Goliath’s Saunatel. Nineteen men are charged including 13 as found-ins and six as keepers. Goliath’s reopens Jan 23, 2003. Most of the found-ins use an alternative-measures program to have their charges dismissed.


May 9. Thirty-four men are charged with committing indecent acts after a raid on Taboo, a gay strip bar in Montreal.


May 27. An Alberta judge rules that police had “reasonable justification” to raid Goliath’s but in November the Crown stays the final found-in charge.

Aug 3. Hamilton’s Warehouse Spa and Bath is raided by the the city’s multiagency taskforce, including officers from the police, public health, the city’s building and licensing department, the fire department and the Ontario Alcohol And Gaming Commission. Two men are arrested and charged with committing indecent acts. Two other gay businesses are also inspected that night, and further charges laid there. Community protests lead to a review of the work of the taskforce which was quietly released in late 2005.

Dec 16. Pussy Palace and the Toronto Police Service (TPS) reach a settlement. TPS will pay $350,000 including $165,000 for the Bill 7 Award and $25,000 to Maggie’s, an organization for sex workers. Additionally all current and future officers will have to undergo sensitivity training on queer issues.


Dec 21. The Supreme Court Of Canada rules that swingers’ clubs are legal following split decisions in Quebec’s Court Of Appeal stemming from charges against two club owners. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin writes: “Consensual conduct behind code-locked doors can hardly be supposed to jeopardize a society as vigorous and tolerant as Canadian society.” Experts say the ruling will make it hard for police to charge for unpaid sex in bathhouses in the future.

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