Saturday, 12 August 2017

CANADA PRIDE IDEAL TIME TO APOLOGIZE FOR ANTI-GAY MONTREAL POLICE RAIDS

Montreal police raided Sex Garage in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 15, 1990
All Sex Garage photos © Linda Dawn Hammond / IndyFoto.com


UPDATE: Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre and Montreal Police Chief Philippe Pichet officially apologized at an August 18, 2017, press conference at Montreal City Hall, for historical anti-LGBTQ police raids. Pichet said he "regrets the events that were produced during police raids on gay bars during the 1960s to the 1990s. The actions attacked the dignity of the people concerned." 

Coderre said "we have a tainted past and the best way to cure it is to recognize it and the best way to reconcile is to recognize what happened. There were some bad moments with the police force and the city administration and I would like to, on behalf of the municipal administration of the City of Montreal, offer my apology."

I have been publicly screaming for an official apology for years: Projet Montréal city councillor Richard Ryan this week said he too wants the City of Montreal and the SPVM to apologize for their violent police raids of LGBTQ establishments over the course of decades that resulted in “more than 800 people” being arrested — at Truxx in 1977, at Bud’s bar in 1984, the Sex Garage loft party in 1990 (now widely considered to be Montreal’s Stonewall), and at the Katacombes bar in 1994.

This does not include, among other raids, the 36 people arrested at Montreal’s Sauna Aquarius on Crescent Street in February 1975 (the bathhouse was later firebombed and two unclaimed corpses were buried in "Pauper's Field" in Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery atop Mount Royal); the 13 people charged as found-ins after police raided Montreal’s Club Baths in January 1975 (another 26 were arrested there in May 1975); the 61 men arrested at Sauna David in April 1980; and the October 1975 raids on 7 queer bars, including Baby Face, the legendary lesbian bar.
Violent Montreal police raid on Sex Garage
© Linda Dawn Hammond / IndyFoto.com

Then there is the Neptune Sauna, opened in 1973 by Andre Laflamme and Lorne Holiday. At the time Laflamme and Holiday also owned the Aquarius Sauna when Montreal’s Gay Village was still downtown, before the exodus east after the 1976 Montreal summer Olympic games — an exodus precipitated by the systemic police raids.

The Neptune was raided by Montreal police on May 14, 1976. A friend of mine, Henri Labelle, was working as the cashier at the Neptune that night. Henri told me, “They yanked off people’s towels and threw everybody together and took pictures and charged them all with being in a common bawdy house.”

Henri noted, “There was a former mayor’s son there, a government minister, a secretary to the Catholic Archbishop and a couple of cops, but they were ushered out the back door while everyone else was thrown in paddy wagons.”


Eighty-nine patrons were arrested and police confiscated The Neptune’s 7,000-name membership list.

(In 1979 The Neptune on Rue de la Gauchetiere became Le Sauna 456,  just a couple of buildings over from where police raided Sex Garage in July 1990.)

In 2011, author and award-winning historian Ross Higgins, who also co-founded the Archives gaies du Québec, told me, “The police were mad about collecting people’s names during that period. I was part of the group that called for a meeting at the student centre at McGill University after The Neptune raid. There were over 100 people there and they were very angry. That was the beginning of modern gay organizing in Montreal and lead to the creation of the Association pour les droits des gais du Québec (ADGQ).”

I believe former Montreal police chief Jacques Duchesneau (1994-1998) apologized for the 1994 raid on Katacombes, but the cops and the city have not apologized for any of the rest of it.
Violent Montreal police raid on Sex Garage
© Linda Dawn Hammond / IndyFoto.com

So I am happy to hear two of my great friends speak out about the city's conspicuous silence: legendary LGBTQ activist Michael Hendricks, now 75, and Fierté Canada / Canada Pride Montréal 2017 Grand Marshal Puelo Deir.

“I felt the oppression when I was in a club when the police came in with their machine guns and billy clubs and I’ll tell you, it was terrifying,” Puelo told CTV Montreal. “It ruined lives. People committed suicide over this, people were brought into court and were criminalized. Times have changed and they owe us an apology.”

Deir believes the City of Montreal and the police should both officially apologize.

"The people who suffered during those times, the people who are still alive it will be such a great weight off their shoulders and it will buoy our community," Deir added.

Click here to watch CTV Montreal’s video report with Deir.

Meanwhile, Michael Hendricks told The Montreal Gazette that the night of the infamous 1977 police raid on Truxx, he felt tired and went home early. But his partner (now husband) René Leboeuf felt like dancing and went to Truxx instead. Leboeuf arrived as police were raiding the bar, arresting 146 men who were charged with being found in a common bawdy house. 

“He said it was brutal, mean and homophobic,” Hendricks, whose 2004 Quebec Superior Court victory legalized same-sex marriage in Quebec, told The Gazette. “The people who were being dragged out were innocent people.”
Violent Montreal police raid on Sex Garage
© Linda Dawn Hammond / IndyFoto.com

Hendricks welcomed opposition party Projet Montréal’s calls for the City of Montreal and its police force to apologize to the LGBTQ community for past abusive police raids like Truxx and Sex Garage, two pivotal moments in Montreal LGBTQ and policing history.

“It would certainly help the police department’s current management remember that we haven’t forgotten,” Hendricks said. “How could we forget?”

Meanwhile, in Toronto, police chief Mark Saunders on June, 2016, apologized for its infamous 1981 raid on bathhouses that resulted in the arrest of 300 gay men. 
Employees, owners and patrons all faced a variety of charges, 90 per cent of which were later dropped.

"Montreal was worse than Toronto in terms of how the LGBTQ community was treated by the police — Montreal was far harsher," photographer Linda Dawn Hammond toldCBC News.

Hammond’s crucial historical photos captured the violent police raid on Sex Garage in July 1990 and were published on the front pages of both La Presse and Montreal Gazette daily newspapers.

"If there's going to be an apology, I would like to see them address the fact that they removed their police identification just before attacking us at Sex Garage with their [truncheons]," Hammond said. "They've denied it, and they've never addressed the fact that it is illegal for them to cover up their identification."
Violent Montreal police raid on Sex Garage
© Linda Dawn Hammond / IndyFoto.com

An official apology from Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre and the Montreal police force during Fierté Canada / Canada Pride Montréal 2017 would be a welcome gesture during Canada Pride, a landmark moment in the ongoing reconciliation process between Montreal and the city's resilient LGBTQ communities.

“We will work together to reconcile and to apologize for what happened in the past,” Coderre said at the Fierté Canada / Canada Pride Montréal 2017 Rainbow-flag-raising ceremony in Parc des Faubourgs on August 11. 

Meanwhile, Projet Montréal city councillor Richard Ryan said in a news release, "The struggle against homophobia and transphobia has made giant steps in recent years, including within the police force, but it would be wrong to believe that the issues are all settled.

“These raids contributed to the marginalization of the LGBTQ community and created a climate of tension between the community and police.”

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