Skip to content

1981 – Toronto Police get dirty with “Operation Soap”

January 26, 2010

On February 5, 1981, the Toronto police initiated “Operation Soap” – the code name for brutal police raids on several of Toronto’s gay bathhouses. In the largest mass arrest since the October Crisis, 286 men were arrested and charged as found-ins, and twenty men are charged as keepers of bawdy houses. In subsequent trials, all but one of the “found-ins” were acquitted (CBC Archives).

A documentary on the bathhouse raids and the ensuing protests quotes Duncan McLaren, one of the men who was charged as a found-in at the Barracks bathhouse. McLaren describes his victimization by the police:

“We ended up in the shower room and we were all told to strip… But I think one of the most chilling things was… one of the cops said, looking at all the showers and the pipes going into the shower room; he said ‘gee, it’s too bad we can’t hook this up to gas’.” (Stand Together)

The following evening, over 3000 members and supporters of Toronto’s gay community united to demonstrate against these raids. A second protest was held on Feb. 20 at Queen’s Park, with over 4000 people gathering to call for increased rights and protection for gays and lesbians in Canada. In the aftermath of the raids, the Toronto City Council commissioned an investigation into community relations between the police and the gay community. The report recommended a permanent dialogue committee between the two groups (CBC Archives).

1981 protest

Protest against Gay bathhouse raids (

This headline from the Toronto Star, calling the protest a “rampage” or “riot” shows the media’s bias against the protesters.

An audio clip from the CBC Archives, originally broadcast on Feb. 15, 1981, features interviews with leaders of the gay community.  One of the speakers says that this is “not just a gay issue, but a human rights issue.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: