A message from Daniel Ross:
Note in your calendars that Tom Hooper is defending his thesis on Dec 9. Consider attending if you a) know Tom b) study Canadian/LBGTQ/legal/social movements history c) are curious about how defenses work d) need inspiration with your own project.
“Enough is Enough”: The Right to Privacy Committee and Bathhouse Raids in Toronto, 1978-83
By Tom Hooper
Friday December 9, 2016
History Department Common Room
On Thursday February 5th, 1981, 200 agents from the Metropolitan Toronto Police raided four of the city’s gay bathhouses. Codenamed “Operation Soap,” 286 men were charged with the criminal offense of being “found in a common bawdy house,” 30 men faced the more serious charge of “keeping a common bawdy house.” Operation Soap was known for its scale, but also for its destruction and brutality. The Richmond Street Health Emporium was destroyed to the extent that it never reopened. At the Barracks bathhouse, several of the found-ins were forced into the shower room, where police agents made jocular references to the holocaust. The legacy of the bathhouse raids has been the subject of academic and popular discourse. Using news reports, archival material, and 25 oral history interviews, this project provides the historical context for Operation Soap and the community resistance that brought an end to bathhouse raids in Toronto.
The bathhouse raids are situated within the broader history of queer consciousness, resistance, and political organizing, both in Toronto and across North America. The resistance to the bath raids are not analogous to the 1969 Stonewall riot in New York City, but rather, activists built upon these radical actions of the sexual liberation movement. This movement came to Canada, as represented by the 1971 “We Demand” protest on Parliament Hill, where activists criticized the 1969 amendments to the Criminal Code by Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau. These amendments partially decriminalized certain sexual acts, provided they took place under a strict set of circumstances: namely, that only two people could be present. If more than two were present, the space was deemed by police to be public and subject to the bawdy house law in the Criminal Code. In building on the work of queer theorists, this project argues that the ideal of private sexual monogamy, or mononormativity, was the point of conflict between law enforcement discourse of morality and the sexuality contained within a bathhouse. The policing of anonymous group sex among adult men became a rallying point for the emerging queer community.
This project is a history of the Right to Privacy Committee (RTPC) and the various tactics employed in resisting the police. This group was created after the first Toronto bathhouse raid in December 1978. Their tactics included formal briefs to police agencies and the Parliament of Canada, as well as more radical actions involving sit-ins and street demonstrations. The RTPC became best known for coordinating the successful defence of 90% of the men charged, and for raising $224,000 to subsidize the cost of their legal fees. In addition to this narrative of success, the RTPC reflected some of the divisions and complexity of an increasingly organized queer political community. Activists and gay business interests were in conflict over a rights-based strategy versus a sexual liberationist strategy of resistance. Policing was an important issue of solidarity between queer activists and people of colour, but it also brought to the surface tensions between gay men and lesbians. The central theme of this project is that the RTPC was not a singular organization, it consisted of various resisters of social control who were influenced by their own identities and experiences.