section 3: "Operation Soap"

As the gay liberation movement and the campaign for human and civil rights gathered momentum and support there was a growing backlash. Opposition to gay rights came from organized religious groups, in particular Renaissance International in Canada, as well as from the police. A series of police raids took place on gay establishments: the Body Politic magazine, gay bars and bathhouses in Ottawa and Montreal - culminating in the bath raids in Toronto.

On February 5th, 1981, a massive police raid was carried out on four gay bathhouses in Toronto. Operation Soap, the Metro Police codename for the raid, resulted in the largest mass arrest in Canada since the FLQ crisis. Two hundred and sixty eight men were arrested and charged as found-ins and nineteen others were charged as keepers of a common bawdy house.

Beginning at 11 p.m., more than 150 police simultaneously raided the Club Baths, the Romans II Health and Recreation Spa, the Richmond Street Health Emporium and, for the second time, the Barracks. Photos taken by Robert Norman Hatton the day after the raid are a chilling record of police destruction of the Richmond Health Emporium, so heavily damaged it never reopened.

photo credit: Robert Norman Hatton

In the section of Stand Together entitled Operation Soap, Peter Bochove, former owner of the Richmond Street Health Emporium and Duncan McLaren who was arrested and charged as a found-in at the Barracks recount their memories of the night of the raid.


The raids unleashed an angry response from the gay and lesbian community as well as widespread condemnation from organizations and individuals that condemned the raids and called fro a review of police action.

The following night, on February 6th, over three thousand peopl gathered in downtown streets in an angry late-night protest against the raids (see February 6th 1981 gay rage photos by Elinor Mahoney and Jake Peters). Over 1400 people joined the Right to Privacy Committee at a meeting at Jarvis Street Collegiate to set up a defense campaign for those charged in the raids and to organize a second demonstration.

On February 20th, 1981, the second demonstration against the raid was held (See video clip GAY RAGE).

Over four thousand rallied at Toronto's Queen's Park and marched to Metro Toronto Police's 52 Division to protest the bathhouse raids and to call for an independent inquiry. Some thirty-five undercover police attempted to take over the front banner of the march. Their presence is later revealed and exposed to the press. Speakers included Lemona Johnson, wife of Albert Johnson, a black man who was killed by police, Brent Hawkes, senior pastor of Metro Community Church and Wally Majeski, then head of Metro Toronto Labour Council.

There were renewed calls for the inclusion of human rights protection for gays and lesbians. The Coalition for Gay Rights in Ontario produced a pamphlet entitled "Who are These People and What Do They Want?" (February 1982). 10,000 copies sold in its first year (see pages from the pamphlet here).

I am indebted to Harry Sutherland for permission to use footage from his
award-winning documentary "Track Two" on the bathhouse raids in 1981.


video clips


" Operation Soap"


operation soap

Peter Bochove, co-owner of the Richmond Street Health Emporium at the time of the 1981 bath raid decribes the arrival of the police:

"They leapt the counter and grabbed the cashier and bust the door open. And the first fifty arrived in the first wave. They spread out and very quickly began running around and rounding people up. And I realized that they had arrived on $3.99 room night. We had no rooms. The rooms were sold out, 104 rooms, every one of them occupied. Most of the lockers were gone. It was a big crowd. over half of the people arrested were at Richmond Street from the four baths. The other fifty officers arrived fairly quickly, I guess they must have had them standing by. And then they went out to their police cars and came in with thier tools. They came in carting incredible numbers of crowbars and sledgehammers. At that point they were offerred the keys ot the lockers and the room. They held up a crowbar to me and said 'we brought out own.'"

Duncan McLaren, charged as a found-in at the Barracks:

"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'."

"Gay Rage"


"Gay Rage" (3:36:25)

On February 20th 1981, demonstrators gave vent to the pent-up anger against the police raids and years of denial of human rights protections. Spokesman, the Reverend Brent Hawkes, Senior pastor, Metro Community Church (MCC): "No longer will we stand idly by while the politicians ignore us, the police abuse us and the right wing lie about us."


song credit:
"Glad to be Gay" Written and performed by Tom Robinson

Glad to be Gay (1:08:27)

Written and Performed by Tom Robinson

Tom Robinson's wonderfully cynical song best conveyed the mood of the times as the gay community suffered police raids and ongoing homophobia. Special thanks to Tom Robinson.

"and sit by and watch as they close down our clubs
arrest us for meeting and raid all our pubs...
lie to your workmates, lie to your folks
put down the queens and tell anti-queer jokes

sing if you're glad to be gay, sing if you're happy this way, hey,
sing if you're glad to be gay, sing if you're happy this way...

image gallery

1981, Toronto, Bath Raids Headlines

1981, Ontario, Who Are These People and What do they Want! Publication by the Coalition for Gay Rights in Ontario (CGRO), summer 1981

Feb. 6th 1981, Toronto: "Gay Rage", demonstration protesting the raids
Photo Credits: Elinor Mahoney and Jake Peters