Toronto police chief says force regrets 1981 gay bathhouse raids

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The police chief in the Canadian city of Toronto on Wednesday expressed “regret” for a police raid of gay bathhouses in 1981 in an historic first.

Chief Mark Saunders made history when he addressed the actions, which led to hundreds of queer men being arrested.

He said during a pride reception at police headquarters: “The Toronto Police Service expresses regret for those very actions” and “for treating those communities as not fully part of society,” reports

Mark Saunders

The police chief went on to say that the police had learned from its mistakes of that era, and said it was important that the force continued to support and protect the LGBT community.

“Policing requires building trust,” Saunders said.

Also speaking at the event to introduced Saunders was Mayor John Tory, who said: “It is a good and appropriate time to acknowledge something in our community that was wrong…It is timely, it is right and it is necessary.”

The statement from Saunders also had input from gay pastor Reverend Brent Hawkes, who said: “My intention was to honour the people who went through the horror of that night.”

The raids apparently took place after complaints of underage sex, but when no evidence of that charge was found, men were instead charged with being found in a house of prostitution.

Despite appearing in court, over 90 percent of the charges made against the men were dismissed.

At the time, Roy McMurtry, the attorney general, said he was “shocked” that the raids had taken place, but was criticised for still allowing prosecutions to go ahead.

The outings and arrests led to thousands taking to the streets of Toronto.