Canadian Queer History

Resistance and Rebellions

It takes a series of events, repressions and lack of basic human rights that galvanize a community to rise up and resist. Many of these protests, rallies, demonstrations and incidents have been forgotten by our community.

It is essential however, that we remember our collective history and acknowledge that these painful, traumatic, and ultimately transformative events happened to our communities that were and still are at risk. Laws were often changed after some of these moments of resistance, but these changes came with great pain for our community–pain that took a long time to be acknowledged and a longer time to receive an apology.

The blood, sweat and tears of the many individuals and groups who have fought for the progress we enjoy today should be remembered to honour them, and so that we never forget the power in a community that comes together to fight and advocate for each other. Explore the Queer history of resistance and rebellions.

History Timeline: Resistance & Rebellions

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Grassroots / Protest, Riots & Raids

1971 First Gay Rights Protest - queer hisotry - gay rights protest ottawa 1971
Media Credit: Ottawa Journal

On August 28, 1971, roughly 100 people from Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and the surrounding areas gathered in the pouring rain at Parliament Hill for Canada’s First Gay Liberation Protest and March. They presented a petition to the government with a list of ten demands for equal rights and protections.

Simultaneously, another much smaller group of roughly twenty gay activists demonstrated at Robson Square in Vancouver.

Protest, Riots & Raids

Tipping Point: The Brunswick Four - queer history - brunswick four banner
Media Credit: Queer Events

In January, The Brunswick four are arrested at the Brunswick Tavern in Toronto. Some historians believe that the arrest and its consequences was a key incident ushering in a more militant gay and lesbian liberation movement in Canada, much as the Stonewall Inn Riots politicized gays and lesbians in the United States.

This was also one of the first occasions that a gay or lesbian topic received extensive press coverage in Canada. The women brought charges against the officers subsequently for verbal and physical police harassment, however the officers were acquitted due to their switching their hats and badge numbers making them unable to be accurately identified.

Protest, Riots & Raids

Montreal Olympic 'Cleanup'

From Feb 1975 to June 1976, Police raids ramp up at Club Baths, Neptune Sauna and across gay and lesbian bars in Montreal's Stanley Street gay village, this event was widely perceived as mayor Jean Drapeau's attempts to "clean up" the city in advance of the 1976 Summer Olympics.

"In late May and early June, all the baths in Montreal were closed…For a lot of men in Montreal, their first experience of the great Olympic ‘clean-up’ was the sight of a policeman’s axe crashing through the door of their room at the baths."

The Body Politic

An organization called the Comité homosexuel antirépression/Gay Coalition against Repression (CHAR) was set up with representatives from various Montreal gay groups bringing together French and English-speaking activists, lesbians and gay men, with sections of the left and the feminist movements. On Jun 19, more than 300 queers and supporters joined in one of the largest demonstrations up to that point. It was organized by CHAR and protested pre-Olympic cleanup raids. This resistance to the Olympic ‘cleanup’ set the stage for the massive protest which would occur in 1977.

Arts, Culture, Media / Protest, Riots & Raids

Pickets against CBC Halifax - queer history - 1977 protest in halifax
Media Credit: Robin Metcalfe

On Feb 17th 1977 Nova Scotia’s LGBT2Q+ community came together for its first public protest, picketing CBC headquarters on the corner of Sackville and South Park Streets over the local station’s refusal to run a public service announcement advertising the Gay Alliance for Equality’s Gayline. Around 21 people marched out front of the CBC building.

Two days later, on February 19, activists in five major Canadian cities (Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vancouver) held pickets to make it the first nationally coordinated gay and lesbian demonstration. The CBC head office in Toronto would later enshrine into national policy the rejection of PSAs from gay and lesbian organizations.

Members of GAE convinced the Dalhousie Gazette to lead a nationwide boycott of CBC advertising by university student papers until, many years later, they finally changed their position.

Protest, Riots & Raids

Montreal Raids

On the night of Oct. 22, 1977, Montreal police raided Truxx and Le Mystique, two gay bars on Stanley St. This raid was more of a military operation then a normal police intervention: 50 police officers, wearing bulletproof vests with guns (including machine guns) drawn, went in and arrested 146 patrons, all homosexual men, as part of what was at the time the biggest mass arrest since Trudeau had declared the “War Measures Act” during the October Crisis.

The men who were arrested were crowded into holding cells for more than eight hours, and forced to take venereal disease tests. They were also forbidden from calling their lawyers.

The very next day, 2,000 people took to the streets, blocking the corners of Ste. Catherine St. W. and Stanley St. to protest what had happened on the previous night. Police and protestors naturally clashed. In an effort to get the crowd to disperse, police rode their motorcycles into the crowd, clubbing protestors, who in turn threw beer bottles at the police.

Protest, Riots & Raids

Tipping Point: Operation Soap Police Raids - queer history - operation soap banner
Media Credit: Queer Events

On Feb. 5, 1981 Toronto police stormed four gay bathhouses in the city as part of what they called "Operation Soap," and arrested just under 300 men. For the majority, charges were later dropped or dismissed.

Rallies were held in response to the injustice and to this day it is often referred to as Canada’s Stonewall.

To this day, "Operation Soap" is one of the largest mass arrests in Canada and it was 35 years later in 2016 that Toronto's police chief formally apologized for the raids.

Protest, Riots & Raids

Pisces Raids in Edmonton - queer history - 1981 edmonton pisces raid

Forty members of the Edmonton Police service, six RCMP officers, and two crown attorneys stormed the Pisces Health Spa, a bathhouse used by gay men, on May 30, 1981, at around 1:30 AM. In the raid, 56 men were arrested and charged while an additional six men, owners and employees, were charged with being keepers of a common bawdy house. A local TV station ran the names of those found at Pisces outing the men publicly. In response to the raid, over 100 people rallied at city hall on June 3 to condemn the raid as a violation of civil rights, as well as a waste of money.

The raid drew groups within Edmonton’s gay community together and made it more vocal and public. It was also noted that the Edmonton police consulted with Toronto police on how to execute the raids. The outrage that Edmontonians felt after the raids led to a more accepted and public LGBTQ community and the lack of tolerance towards infringements of civil liberties in Edmonton.

Grassroots / Protest, Riots & Raids

Dykes in the Streets - queer history - lesbians against the right march 1981

On October 17th 1981, the now-defunct organization Lesbians Against the Right held a "Dykes in the Streets" march in Toronto, Ontario, with lesbian power, pride, and visibility as the theme. 350 women participated in this demonstration.

Protest, Riots & Raids

Glad Day Bookshop Raid - queer history - kevin orr gald day bookshop

On April 21st, Glad Day Bookshop which is the oldest surviving LGBT bookstore across Turtle Island was targeted by the Toronto Police Services in a series of raids. Kevin Orr is charged with "possession of obscene material for purposes of resale."

Protest, Riots & Raids

Little Sister’s Bookstore Seizure - queer history - little sisters rally vancouver
Media Credit: Richard Banner

On December 8, Canada Customs seizes more than 500 books and magazines destined for Little Sister's using the 1847 Customs Act prohibiting the importation of books with “immoral or indecent character" that allowed customs officials to confiscating shipments of allegedly “obscene” titles at their own discretion.

Among the 58 titles seized are Jean Genet's Querelle and four other books available at the Vancouver Public Library. The battle heats up after Customs declares the Advocate news magazine inadmissible and the store goes to court. It takes the store two years and $5,000 in legal fees to get the government to admit that it should never have seized the magazines in the first place. By then, unfortunately, the magazines had been burned.

Little Sister’s Bookstore Constitutional Challenge

Fed up with years of seizures, Little Sister's launches a constitutional challenge to Customs' censorship powers on June 7th, 1990. Together with the BC Civil Liberties Association, the store contends that Customs is discriminating against gay men and lesbians and violating the freedom of expression guaranteed under the Charter Of Rights And Freedoms.

December 15, 2000, ten years after it began, the Little Sister's case reached the Supreme Court Of Canada which rules that Customs targeted Little Sister’s solely because it's a gay and lesbian bookstore. But also ruled that Customs can continue to screen and censor material at the border, provided it screens equally, without regard to the orientation of the material. This meant that Customs now had to prove that confiscated materials were obscene while previously it was up to the importer to prove otherwise.


Protest, Riots & Raids

Tipping Point: The Sex Garage Raids - queer history - sex garage police raids
Media Credit: Queer Events

On July 15, Police raid The Sex Garage's After Party. The violence ignited 36 hours of clashes between Montreal’s LGBT community and the police force, which was accused at the time of harbouring a culture of homophobia. The Sex Garage raid is now widely considered to be Montreal’s Stonewall, after the New York City riots in 1969 that marked a turning point for the LGBT rights movement worldwide.

Sex Garage politicized a generation of LGBT activists who would change the Quebec political landscape, uniting gays and lesbians, and francophones and anglophones, in a common front. These activists would establish the Divers/Cité Pride March and political-action groups like La Table de concertation des gaies et lesbiennes du grand Montréal to successfully fight for LGBT civil rights and improve gay life in Montreal.

Protest, Riots & Raids

Montreal's Katakombes Bar Raids

On February 17, a legendary bar in Montreal's gay milieu, the KOX / Katakombes was raided by Montreal police who arrested all 165 men present for having been in a "bawdy house". This event barely took place a few weeks after the hearings of the Human Rights Commission which, among other things, pointed the finger at the police for its repression of the gay community.

Protest, Riots & Raids

Tipping Point: Pussy Palace Raids - queer history - 2000 pussy palace raids
Media Credit: Queer Events

On September 14, six male officers from the Toronto Police raided Club Toronto during an all-female queer and trans event known as the “Pussy Palace.” This event resulted in protests and pickets of the Toronto police's 52 Division.

In 2002, an Ontario provincial court judge ruled that police were wrong to raid the party and a 2005 class action lawsuit  and complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Commission resulted in a $350,000 settlement which included a formal apology in writing and required the force to establish cultural competency training for all members regarding the LGBT community.

Grassroots / Community

Community Rally Against Homophobia

On Nov 18, over 3,000 people came together for a march and vigil protesting anti-gay violence held to commemorate the death of Vancouver resident Aaron Webster who was assaulted and killed in Stanley Park by four young offenders in one of Canada's most notorious anti-gay hate crimes. Webster’s death ignited a community that had enough after a series of hate motivated attacks against members of the queer community.

Protest, Riots & Raids

Raid on Goliath (Calgary)

Goliath’s Sauna and Texas Lounge, a gay bathhouse in Calgary was raided for being a common bawdy house in 2002. Authorities charged two bartenders with running a common bawdy house and 13 patrons as having no lawful excuse for being there. The Crown eventually stayed the charges citing changed community standards.

"We thought the era of police raiding our sexuality was over"

Gareth Kirby, Xtra West
Protest, Riots & Raids

Hamilton’s Warehouse Raids

On August 4, 2004, under the guise of performing public health inspections, authorities in Hamilton arrested two patrons for indecency and sparked outrage in the local queer community. Police later admitted learning gay activities happened at the establishment thanks to spotting comments on a gay cruising website, despite initially suggesting they had no idea the business was a bathhouse.


Toronto's First Trans March

The Trans March, originally started by Karah Mathiason began in response to Pride’s lack of organizing efforts for the Trans* Community.

The march, which was not recognized by Pride Toronto as an officially programmed event, was a short route that from Church & Bloor Streets to Church & Wellesley Streets.

When the march reached the Church and Wellsley Streets, they were met with large metal barricades lined up across the street. The marchers, disappointed and frustrated, pushed through the barricades, and finished the first ever Trans March inside the Village.

Grassroots / Protest, Riots & Raids

First Trans Protest in Quebec

Organised by PolitiQ-queer solidaire, an activist group fighting against all forms of heterosexist and cissexist oppression and exclusion in Quebec.

Nearly 200 people gathered for the 2010 demonstration, which included community organizations advocating for the rights of trans people and leading public figures from legal, academic, and political sectors. The protesters demanded changes be made to Quebec's existing regulations requiring those seeking gender marker changes to their civil status to undergo forced sterilization, as well as more accessible ways of changing one's name.


First Yukon Pride March - queer history - yukon pride march 2012
Media Credit: HPJ Photography

In the fall of 2012, the bishop of the territory introduced a policy for the Catholic school’s discussions about sexuality. It was called: 'One Heart, One Truth, One Love.'

'It went straight back to the Catholic doctrine of morally disturbed 'same-sex attractions' – our queer kids were being taught they were evil. We were not OK with that.’’ - Former teacher and Queer Yukon activist Stephanie Hammond. So over a beer with another local Fiona Griffin, they organized the town’s first pride march.

Protest, Riots & Raids

BLM Protest for Equality - queer histroy - blm protest racism at toronto pride
Media Credit: The Star

On July 3, 2016 Black Lives Matter - Toronto took the opportunity as the honoured group in the Pride Parade to halt the parade in an effort to address anti-blackness within an already marginalized community. The chapter consulted with Black Queer Youth, an organization for LGBTQ youth, which had its stage moved farther away from the main crowd; queer Indigenous people who have also boycotted pride and its erasure; and Blackness Yes, the community organization that hosts Blockorama, Pride Toronto’s stage for People of Colour, which has also faced some of the largest budget cuts

The group released a list of demands, including a commitment to increase representation among Pride Toronto staff, and to prioritize the hiring of black transgender women and indigenous people. The group also viewed the shutdown as a moment to highlight how Toronto Pride and the Toronto police were attempting to erase the department's poor relationship with the communities.

Although met with mixed reception from both within the queer community and outside, this marked a collective outpouring of frustration and demands for equality and an end to racism from many queer indigenous and people of colour who were being marginalized within the queer community.


Protests Against Transphobia - queer history - transphobia protest at toronto public library
Media Credit: The Canadian Press

On October 29, hundreds gathered outside the Toronto Public Library to protest the library allowing their space to be used for an event by a controversial feminist writer with transphobic views. Toronto library officials have defended renting out the room for Megan Murphy’s appearance by saying she does not fall under the library’s definition of hate speech. Murphy believes trans women should not use public washrooms designated for women or compete in sporting events against cisgendered women. She claims trans women endanger cis women and women’s rights.

Having a transphobic speaker at the library endangers me because among other things they advocate ... that I'm a threat to other women. These statements cause people to fear trans women and act violently toward us in public spaces.

Gwen Benaway, author

In the aftermath of the protests many authors and queer organizers have refused to do events or engagements at the Toronto Public Library. The Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians issued a statement asserting that the Toronto Public LIbrary in allowing the talk in the name of intellectual freedom failed to adequately consider the impact that decision would play in perpetuating discrimination against the transgender community. It further committed to re-examine how the library community understands and deploys core values and principles.

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