Police raids of LGBTQ2+ spaces in Canada are not just memories from decades past. We have a wealth of information in our vertical files regarding the raids of the Pussy Palace in Toronto in 2000, Goliath’s Saunatel in Calgary in 2002, and Taboo strip club in Montreal in 2003.
The Pussy Palace: Toronto, 2000
“As the word that men were there rippled through the crowds I watched a palpable change in women’s bodies and their demeanor. Naked women grabbed for towels, clothes or anything to hide themselves from these police officers.”
Loralee Gillis, “Pussies Bite Back: The Story of the Women’s Bathhouse Raid”
On September 14, 2000, the Women’s Bath House Organizing Committee hosted “2000 Pussies” at Club Toronto—also referred to as the Pussy Palace on nights when women and trans folx took over the gay bathhouse. At 12:45am the next morning, five male uniformed Toronto police officers from 52 Division entered the Palace. Despite it being an all-women event, the officers proceeded to search the space, remaining until 2:15am.
“Although many women were naked or seminaked, we were explicitly prevented from warning participants of the police presence,” organizers Chanelle Gallant and Loralee Gillis explain. Two women were charged under the Liquor License Act that night.
Recalling memories of the sweeping 1981 raids of Toronto’s gay bathhouses, and Bijou and the Barn just months before, the raid on the Pussy Palace quickly mobilized LGBTQ2+ people in the city into protest. Fundraising efforts were also undertaken to build legal defenses for the women charged, including the sale of buttons like the one pictured here, which is held in our collection.
As the legal battle unfurled, the committee continued to organize bathhouse events, with their first one after the raid entitled, “Pussies Bite Back.” Eventually, the charges were thrown out by a judge and the committee was awarded $350,000 in a settlement with the Toronto Police Services Board on a complaint filed with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Toronto police were also ordered to receive sensitivity training.
Goliath’s Saunatel: Calgary, 2002
“We will not be intimidated.”
Keith Purdy, XTRA! West
At 3:30 pm on December 12th, 2002, Calgary police raided Goliath’s Saunatel. Two employees were charged with keeping a common bawdy house, and 13 patrons with being found without lawful excuse in a common bawdy house. Police claimed that they were acting on complaints about sex in the bathhouse’s common areas, like the hot tub and the TV room, because they were considered public. Undercover officers were sent to Goliath’s at least five times prior to the raid, posing as patrons and looking for evidence of “explicit sexual activity” in these areas.
“Patrons must venture along an alley, through a parking lot, down some stairs, through a secured door, past a window where they must purchase a membership and through another door before entering the common area. Above the window, a large, pink neon sign unmistakably declares it to be a ‘Gay Premises’,” Jeremy Hainsworth wrote in the December 18, 2002 edition of XTRA! West. “Despite police claims to the contrary, the entire bathhouse is more aptly described as a private meeting space for gays.”
Notably, Goliath’s had been in operation for 15 years at the time of the raid without issue. In fact, the police liaison to the gay community, Cst Doug Jones, had visited several times and even toured the facility. Neither Jones nor the police-community liaison committee were informed of problems which could have been addressed before the raid.
Bathhouses across the country publicly offered their support to Goliath’s in Outlooks.
Most of the patrons charged opted for an alternative-measures program to see their charges dismissed, and all others were dropped two years later by an Alberta judge.
Taboo: Montreal, 2003
“This is just sickening.”
Robert Thibeault, fab
On May 9, 2003, approximately 40 police officers raided the Taboo strip club under suspicion that the club employed underage dancers and that indecent acts were occurring in a backroom. 23 dancers, seven managers, and four patrons were arrested. A dancer reported to have heard one officer aggressively questioning a group of partially clothed strippers: “What’s wrong with you guys, stripping for old faggots?”
Taboo hired dancers who were 18 to 20 years old, and most of their clients were much older. “It is obvious that the sex work of young-looking gay men in the company of older men initiates a knee-jerk reaction…It’s the fear of intergenerational sexual exchange,” Maria-Belén Ordóñez argued in the March 30, 2006 edition of XTRA!
15 of the dancers pleaded guilty to avoid taking the stand and having to talk about their sex work in front of what Ordóñez classifies as a “generally unsympathetic public.” All outstanding charges were eventually withdrawn.
Although nearly all of charges laid in these raids were dropped, the traumatic violation and belittling of LGBTQ2+ people’s privacy and sexualities has had lasting effects across the country.
All materials referenced her are accessible at our 34 Isabella Street. We also have many materials detailing the raids of bathhouses in Montreal, Toronto, and Edmonton in the 1970s and 1980s in our archives.
If you would like to view them, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author: Michael Pereira, Volunteer. Edited by Sydney Gautreau.
Our featured image is from the January 2003 issue of Outlooks magazine and includes the iconic neon sign outside of Goliath’s Saunatel.