"Enough is Enough": The Right to Privacy Committee and Bathhouse Raids in Toronto, 1978-83
Hooper, Thomas Harold
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On Thursday February 5th, 1981, 200 agents from the Metropolitan Toronto Police raided four of the citys gay bathhouses. Codenamed Operation Soap, 286 men were charged with the criminal offense of being found in a common bawdy house, 20 men faced the more serious charge of keeping a common bawdy house. Operation Soap was known for its scale, but also for its destruction and brutality. This dissertation focusses on the history of the Right to Privacy Committee (RTPC), a group formed in 1978 in response to Torontos first bathhouse raid. This study utilizes oral history from 25 interviews, the gay liberation news journal The Body Politic, as well as archival material from the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives. The bathhouse raids are situated within the broader history of queer consciousness, resistance, and political organizing, both in Toronto and across North America. The 1969 amendments to the Canadian Criminal Code partially decriminalized certain sexual acts, provided they took place under a strict set of circumstances: namely, that only two people could be present. If more than two people were present, the space was deemed by police to be a public place and subject to the bawdy house law. Building on the work of queer theorists, this project argues that the ideal of private sexual monogamy, or mononormativity, was the primary point of conflict between law enforcement discourse of morality and the sexual practices performed within a bathhouse. This is a history of the RTPC and the various tactics they employed in resisting the police. The RTPC became best known for its various political actions, coordinating the successful defence of 90% of the men charged, and for raising $224,000 to subsidize the cost of their legal fees. However, the RTPC reflected some of the divisions and complexity of an increasingly diverse queer political community, including gay business owners, Marxists, feminists, and people of colour. The central theme of this project is that the RTPC was not a singular organization, it consisted of various resisters of social control who were influenced by their own identities and experiences.