Montréal’s Stonewall – Hard to imagine it was only twenty years ago…

On one of those insufferably hot July nights back in 1990, about 40 cops arrested 9 out of 400 party-goers after they raided a loft party. That those in attendance were homosexuals shouldn’t have made any difference, but ultimately it did, and the event is comparable to the Stonewall riots, though with a distinctively Montréal character. Those arrested, for the most part, ended up in the Montréal General Hospital, along with many more savagely beaten by SPVM officers. The cops stroked their batons in mock masturbation while the crowd was dispersed towards Beaver Hall Hill. What they didn’t realize was that they were completely surrounded, and the constables had quite illegally removed their identification. They were looking for a fight. Linda Dawn Hammond was on the scene taking photographs of the party when she became directly involved, chronicling the brutality and capturing the photographs which would run on the front pages of the Gazette and La Presse the very next day. It seems as though 1990 was a watershed year for police brutality against citizens of Montréal; thankfully it seems as though it was one of the last.

Richard Burnett gives a clear insight into the way by which the Sex Garage Incident forever changed gay politics in Canada, let alone Montréal, now a premier gay-tourism destination. Twenty years after one of the most horrific examples of police brutality, the annual Diver/Cité festival is estimated to generate about $40 million in revenue and economic spin-offs for the City of Montréal. How times have changed. Unfortunately, it would take another round of protests and beatings before the Chief of the SPVM decided to take action. Among other decisions, the police would scale down its anti-gay crusade, and harassment of gay men on Mount Royal was put on the back-burner while the police morality squad re-focused their energies. Also, two days after the incident, the SPVM promised they’d no longer attack peaceful protesters.

I’m still not convinced about that last point, but it’s good to know that events like Sex Garage aren’t going to happen again in this city. That is, as long as the citizens ensure the protection of their own fundamental human rights.

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