MONTREAL — Puelo Deir, one of the grand marshals in this year's Pride Parade in Montreal, was at city hall Friday and said he had no idea the mayor and police chief were going to apologize to the LGBTQ community.
"I thought: Oh. My. Gay!" Deir said in reaction to Mayor Denis Coderre's formal apology on behalf of the city for institutional discrimination toward the community.
But behind the jokes are dark memories of a time in Montreal when armed police used to force their way into gay bars, he said.
"Not only did the police show up with machine-guns and cameras, but they took photos of people, which ended up in the newspapers," Deir said. "It destroyed lives."
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."
Police Chief Philippe Pichet said, on behalf of the force, 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."
Deir, who co-founded a popular series of annual gay events in the city, said police raids on gay bars during that period were regular.
One of the most infamous occurred in 1990 at the Sex Garage loft party, which is considered to be a turning point in the history of the city's LGBTQ community.
"People just used to take it," he lamented. "It wasn't until Sex Garage that we said we wouldn't take it anymore."
The subsequent protests and violent police reaction are credited with sparking the modern-day LGBTQ rights movement in Quebec.
Valerie Plante, mayoral candidate and city councillor in the district that is home to Montreal's gay village, said her party called on the mayor a week ago to make a formal apology.
"It's a big victory for the whole LGBTQ community," Plante said. "People had been telling us about it and we also have the example of Toronto, which did something similar.
"I'm glad it was done."
Last summer, Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders said the force "regrets" a series of raids in 1981 that netted hundreds of gay people.
He noted that event wasn't the only time police had harassed the LGBTQ community, but that "the February 1981 event was the most dramatic in its destructiveness and in the number of men arrested — some 300."
Coderre said Montreal will create a new policy of sexual diversity and gender plurality, which will include hiring someone to work as a liaison between Montreal and the LGBTQ community.
Montreal's Pride Parade takes place Sunday.
Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press