Remembering the RTPC

Gay Archivist, Number 9, June 1991

Bob Krawczyk, Appx 2,300 words


This article marked two events: the tenth anniversary of the Feb 5, 1981 Toronto bath raids, and the formal dissolution on, Feb 9, 1991, of the RTPC -- the Right to Privacy Committee.

The RTPC, born in resistance to an earlier raid in 1978, was one of the city's biggest and most active groups in a time of tense police- community relations. The records of the Right to Privacy Committee are now held in the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives.

For this online version, subheadings have been added to aid in scanning the page, and extensive annotations, with references to related material, have been made as footnotes. Footnote numbers (eg: [1]) are links, each one leading to its corresponding note. Links following each note can bring you back to your place in the main text.


Remembering the raids

This year, on February 6th, 250 people marched to the 52 Division headquarters of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Department. The demonstrators marched to mark the tenth anniversary of the infamous 1981 bath raids, during which Metropolitan Toronto police officers entered four gay bathhouses and arrested 266 gay men as found-ins, and twenty as keepers, of a common bawdyhouse.

Significantly, this year's march was held not on the date the raid occurred, but on the anniversary of the night following the raids, when an angry demonstration by over 3,000 people blocked Yonge Street for several hours. That night the rage of the gay community found expression as thousands shouted at the police and broke through their cordons to arrive at 52 Division headquarters.

In the months following, men charged in the raids were assisted in their legal defence; eventually, 249 were found not guilty.

Community response to the bath raids came to represent a watershed for gay people in Toronto, a kind of "second Stonewall." The slogan heard often that night, "No More Shit!," would become a rallying cry against all those who would treat homosexuality as an aberration to be controlled through violence and the law. [1]

Although the Right to Privacy Committee (RTPC) is probably best remembered for its well organized and timely assistance to those arrested during the raids, the organization was actually founded some years earlier.

Following a police raid on the Barracks baths on December 9, 1978, a group of men met to assist those charged in the raid. They offered legal counselling, limited financial assistance, and sent volunteers to observe the courtroom proceedings. Early in 1979 this group evolved into the RTPC. [2]

Unfriendly times

There was no doubt that this kind of organization was needed in Toronto. In 1979, the city was a decidedly unfriendly place for gay people. The first of many raids on The Body Politic had occurred the year before, and court challenges to the paper would continue for many years. [3] On June 6, 1979, a gay school teacher was entrapped by the Toronto police in his own home after searching for sex partners through a classified advertisement. [4]

Another bath raid occurred on October 11, 1979, when the Hot Tub Club (located in the building presently occupied by Chaps and Badlands ) was raided, leading to the arrest of twenty-three men on bawdyhouse charges. [5] One of the men charged in the raid later committed suicide.

During 1979 alone, men were arrested in public or semi- public cruising areas, including downtown washrooms, David Balfour Park, and Philosopher's Walk. It was clear at the time that gay men in Toronto were being harassed.

Action on many fronts

Although the RTPC originated after a bathhouse raid, and it became famous for defending those arrested in raids in 1978, 1981, and 1983, its activities extended much further. The RTPC reached out to protect gay people wherever they were vulnerable and faced attack.

For example, in 1981 the RTPC established the Toronto Gay Street Patrol, a group of gay men and lesbians trained in self- defence courses who patrolled the gay neighbourhood and tried to prevent gaybashings, which were then on the rise. These volunteers assisted people in need and helped victims of bashing to cope with the bashers, as well as the sometimes negative attitudes of the police.

Gay Court Watch, initiated through the RTPC in July 1982, regularly sent volunteer observers to gay-related trials and court appearances. [6] Court Watch also published regular reports in The Body Politic and Xtra! on the frequency and location of arrests, and provided pocket reference guides on places to avoid for semi- public sex in the Toronto area.

There has not been a bath raid in Toronto since 1983. [7] During the mid-eighties, however, another threat loomed for gay men in Ontario, when the Ontario Provincial Police [OPP] began to videotape the sexual activities of gay men in several smaller centres in Southern Ontario.

When it came time to press charges, the names, addresses, and occupations of the accused were submitted to local newspapers by the police, resulting in a rude coming out for many closeted members of the community. This tactic led one man in St. Catharines to commit suicide after his "crime" was revealed. The RTPC was instrumental in monitoring and protesting these surveillance activities, which the OPP eventually was pressured to abandon. [8]

The RTPC was also active in lobbying politicians to improve the social and legal standing of gay men and lesbians. For example: it made submissions in 1981 to the Bruner Commission on relations between the police and the gay community in Toronto; in 1984 to the House of Commons Special Committee on Pornography and Prostitution; and the Justice Committee of the Ontario Legislature regarding Bill 7, which made sexual orientation a prohibited ground of discrimination in Ontario. [9]

The legacy of the RTPC

The final chapter of the RTPC's story was written February 9, [1991] when the last annual meeting was held and the organization was dissolved. Although Gay Court Watch will continue to operate, there was general agreement at the meeting that the rest of the organization had served its purpose and that the need for the RTPC was not as great as in the past.

A common thread throughout the RTPC's history was its ability to reach out to gay men and lesbians who suddenly found themselves being attacked or threatened -- by gaybashers, by the police, or by the courts themselves -- and provide them with the tools to make an adequate defence of their interests.

In this the RTPC was often very successful, and deserves recognition for its efforts. Gaybashings and police entrapment still occur in Toronto, but the atmosphere here is certainly more positive for gay men and lesbians than it was ten years ago -- this is the legacy of the RTPC.

RTPC records in the Archives

The [then] Canadian Gay Archives has received several accession of records created by the RTPC. The bulk of the material is textual, but there are also posters, photographs, video and sound recordings, and buttons. Minutes, working papers, reports, videos of certain annual general meetings, and internal correspondence discussing the objectives of the organization help document the history of the RTPC.

They also outline the links between the Committee and other gay and lesbian organizations in Toronto with which the RTPC cooperated. Correspondence and briefs reveal how the Committee interacted with various politicians and governmental bodies.

There are also recorded instances of police brutality and violence, including first- hand accounts, together with copies of police reports and articles from the police newsletter. Even the clippings kept by members of the Committee reveal the RTPC's extensive interest in monitoring police activities of all kinds.

As a whole, the records of the RTPC form a graphic testament to the struggle by the Toronto gay community to live openly and proudly during the late 1970s and 1980s.


Footnotes

This article covers a critical period in gay and lesbian history in Toronto, making reference not only to longstanding issues of police harassment, but to many specific events -- too many to provide detailed information on here. Much of this history was reported in The Body Politic, to early 1987, and in Xtra from Mar 1984. Some specific articles are noted below.

Other information on the bath raids is available online. See:

The Archives also holds a great deal of material related to the issues and the players of this period -- some of their names highlighted below . Feel free to get in touch with any inquiries. You can use our e-mail link at the bottom of this page.

Rick Bébout, June 1997


  1. The Feb 6, 1991 march, organized by Queer Nation, was promoted on posters emblazoned "Our Stonewall." The 1981 raids had begun at 11 p.m. on Thursday, Feb 5 and continued into the early hours of Feb 6. One hundred fifty police officers swept simultaneously through four baths -- the Romans II, the Club, the Barracks, and the Richmond Street Health Emporium.

    Community resistance was not only immediate, but long- lasting and effective. There were many more protests over the next few years, with major demonstrations sparked by further raids -- on the Back Door Gym and the International Steam Bath, Jun 16, 1981, and the Back Door again on Apr 20, 1983. See extensive coverage in The Body Politic, beginning with its Mar 1981 issue.
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  2. The group formed after the 1978 raid on the Barracks was initially called the December 9th Defence Fund. The Toronto Lambda Business Council's Michael Laking was its first chair; Rev. Brent Hawkes of the Metropolitan Community Church its treasurer. Sociologist John Alan Lee later served as RTPC chair; George Smith headed the group from the time of the Feb 1981 raids.
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  3. The 24 Duncan Street office of The Body Politic was raided three times: on Dec 30, 1977, May 7, 1982, and at 3:15 a.m. on Jan 29, 1984. The first two raids led to charges based on articles the magazine had published (see the Historical overview in the Inventory of the Records of The Body Politic and Pink Triangle Press). The first case went through two trials and countless appeals, ending -- in victory, after lapse of the deadline for a final Crown appeal -- only in Oct 1983.

    The third raid was unrelated. The Jan 1984 pre-move closing party at Duncan Street was busted by two officers apparently innocent of any political motive: they thought they had found an after- hours "booze can." Charges of violating liquor laws were laid, but later dropped.
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  4. The case of this teacher, Don Franco -- charged with keeping a bawdyhouse in his own home -- was reported in numerous stories in The Body Politic, beginning with Issue 54, Jul 1979. The Nov 1981 issue reports Franco's acquittal on Sep 25, 1981.
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  5. For a report on the Hot Tub Club raid -- to which a crowd of 100 people rushed from an RTPC meeting and blockaded the paddy wagons, forcing them to drive away empty -- see The Body Politic, Nov 1979. Chaps and Badlands, the gay bars that later occupied 9 Isabella Street, closed by the mid-1990s. The building is now a grocery store.
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  6. The RTPC's court program (its name more often appearing as Gay Courtwatch), was a remarkable success. Key case worker Dennis Findlay -- a baker, not a lawyer, by trade -- personally represented some bath raid defendants, winning acquittals for a dozen of them. In later years he served on liaison committees promoting more progressive community-based policing.

    Gay Courtwatch maintined its telephone hotline until Dec 1991, ten months after the dissolution of the RTPC.
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  7. On Feb 9, 1996, more than 30 officers raided Remington's, a gay strip club on Toronto's Yonge Street. Nineteen men were charged, some under bawdyhouse laws, other for "indecent theatrical performance." The move followed court decisions -- based on cases from heterosexual clubs -- banning "lap dancing."

    Community response was quick, if muted in comparison to 1981: there were no demonstrations, but a big meeting was held Feb 25 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, and out of that a group was formed. Its name harked back to the Barracks raid of 1978 -- the February 9th Defence Fund.

    Later presentations to the Metropolitan Toronto Police Services Board were well-received, the board agreeing that this raid, organized by a "morality" unit out of suburban Don Mills, had not been a good example of community policing. The case largely faded from view, with fundraising efforts not a significant success.
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  8. For an overview of washroom surveillance busts across Southern Ontario -- resulting in more than 180 charges from Sep 1983 to Jan 1985 -- see The Body Politic, Mar 1985. From Mar 1986, Xtra regularly featured statistics, provided by Gay Courtwatch, on indecency busts coming to trial in downtown Toronto. The total for 1986 was 366; in the previous year it was 660.
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  9. For a story on Arnold Bruner's "Out of the Closets: Study of Relations Between the Homosexual Community and the Police (Report to Mayor Arthur Eggleton and The Council of the City of Toronto)" see The Body Politic, Nov 1981.

    For the report itself, and briefs submitted to the Bruner Commission by the RTPC, the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario, Gays and Lesbians Against the Right Everywhere, the Tri-Aid Charitable Foundation, and the Lesbian and Gay History Group of Toronto, see the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives monograph collection, items M94-048-1 through M94-048-7. The history group's brief, perpared in large part by James Fraser, includes a chronology of police- community interactions from 1960 to 1980.

    For analysis of the Special Committee on Pornography and Prostitution, known by the name of its chairman as the Fraser Committee, see articles by Chris Bearchell in The Body Politic, Mar and Jun 1984, and Jim Monk, Aug 1985.

    The Dec 1986 passage of Bill 7 is reported in the magazine's Jan 1987 issue. The Archives has a great deal of material on the 15-year campaign to have lesbians and gay men protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code, particularly in the records of the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario.
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[Victories & defeats chronology / Intro]

[The Body Politic & Visions of Community] [TBP / PTP Inventory]

[List of online documents] [Lesbian and Gay Archivist]

[Victories & defeats chronology / 1979 page]