Chief Mark Saunders made a historic acknowledgment on behalf of Toronto Police Service (TPS) at the annual Pride reception at police headquarters on June 22.
Police raids on Toronto bath houses 35 years ago were the catalyst for the annual Pride Week celebrations in the city. An extraordinary community response led to the acquittal of the almost-300 men arrested.
Saunders said the Service regrets its actions taken on February 5, 1981.
“The 35th anniversary is also an occasion to acknowledge the lessons learned about the risks of treating any part of Toronto’s many communities as not fully a part of society,” he said. “Recognizing diversity requires constantly renewed proactive strategies in reaching out to communities and vigilance in challenging stereotypes. Policing requires building mutual trust and that means forging links to the full range of communities that make up this extraordinary city.”
Saunders said Canada’s largest municipal police service recognizes the lessons from that period have continuing relevance for the creation of a more inclusive city.
“While the Toronto Police Service has made real progress in relation with the mainstream LGBTQ2S (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Two-spirit) communities, we recognize the need for a renewed commitment to working co-operatively and respectfully with other marginalised groups and still-disadvantaged sexual minorities,” he added.
Mayor John Tory, also a member of the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB), commended Saunders for his courage in stepping up to the plate to make the apology.
“It’s a good and appropriate time to acknowledge something in our community that was wrong, that went against the respect, sense of fairness and decency and everything that we believe in,” said Tory. “…What he’s doing is timely, it’s right and it’s necessary because we can’t leave these sad chapters in our history to just be forgotten or, in just some way, to be unaddressed. We have to remember, we have to acknowledge and we have to apologize.”
TPSB chair Andy Pringle said the Service has come a long way since the bath houses raids more than three decades ago.
“While we recognize this black mark in our history, we can also celebrate that a lot has changed since that time,” he said. “Today, we have a police service that embraces diversity within the organization and outside in the broader community, and has made great strides in outreach, engagement and relationship-building in the last several decades
Clergyman and gay-rights activist Rev. Brett Hawkes said his intention was to honour the people who went through the horror of the bath houses raids, when he initiated conversations about the possibility of a police apology a few months ago.
“I wanted us to recognize the repercussions of that night, both legally and emotionally, for hundreds of gay men and their families, and to honour the people down through the years who have done their best to fight the injustice and right a wrong,” he said. “The raids on the bath houses 35 years ago and subsequently have been among the low points in the relationship between the LGBTQ community and Toronto Police. The cost of that relationship is that crimes against our community have been under-reported and the trust and relationship that’s needed between various groups, especially marginalised groups, with the police, was severely damaged.”
Hawkes praised Saunders for making the public acknowledgement and called on Toronto Police to listen to voices calling for change.
“It’s especially important to really listen to vulnerable and marginalised groups,” he added. “The work of reconciliation and trust-building is hard work and messy work. But avoiding the pain of the work will only increase the pain of broken relationships and distrust. Today’s apology is an important message to the LGBTQ community and the broader city. However, it is also an important message to police services all around the world that the LGBTQ community deserves and even demands to be treated with respect and is to be seen as valued partners in the broader community.
“Protect us against violence, protect us when we want to march, investigate when we are murdered. Is that too much, we ask, to police services around the world? So, in this way, today not only helps to heal here in Toronto, but it also helps to avoid hurt by sending a broad message to police around the world.”
Saunders also launched a gender-neutral bathroom at headquarters to be inclusive of all community members regardless of their gender identity or gender expression.
The facility is located on the second floor.
“We are committed to creating safe and inclusive spaces at Toronto Police Service and this washroom is a first step,” Saunders said. “Going forward, any time a new building is designed or reconstructed for the Service, it will have gender-neutral facilities. For our friends in the Trans communities, using a public washroom can cause fear and anxiety and, in some cases, harassment and intimidation. That will not happen at Toronto Police headquarters.”
The Chief also used the occasion to announce the creation of the TPS guide dedicated to the Trans communities.
“We know that crimes against Trans persons happen at an alarming rate,” said Saunders. “We also know that, for many reasons, including negative experiences with the police, Trans people have generally not reported these crimes to police. This must stop.”
The guide is filled with useful information about how to report a crime, what support is available to victims and what happens through the court process.
“This guide is meant to educate and inform,” said Saunders. “It is our hope that empowering the Trans communities with this information will encourage them to come forward, so we can do a better job of keeping them safe. I am incredibly proud of my Service. There is tremendous effort from the men and women of Toronto Police to make the Service a safe and inclusive place for all its members and for the communities we serve.”
Since 2009, the TPS LGBTQ Community Consultative Committee (CCC) has been awarding four $1,000 bursaries to LGBTQ youth achieving excellence in the community.
This year’s recipients are Fort William First Nation member Zach Harcourt who will begin undergraduate studies at York University in the fall, Michael Ott who is pursuing a Master’s in journalism at Ryerson University, Erika McCartney who is a gender rights activist with the Durham Catholic District School Board and Julian Oliveria who is entering his final year of undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto.
Saunders joined LGBTQ Community Consultative Committee co-chairs Superintendent Hugh Ferguson and Steven Solomon in making the presentations.