Friday, January 05, 2018

Today in 1974: The Brunswick Four Arrested in Toronto

(L-R) Adrienne Potts, Pat Murphy, Sue Wells and Heather Byers were accused of instigating a “lesbian riot” 
in 1974 in Toronto pub the Brunswick House. Credit: Archive photo
The Brunswick Four were four lesbians involved in an historic incident in Toronto, Ontario in 1974. The four were evicted from the Brunswick Tavern, a working-class beer hall on Bloor Street, subsequently arrested, and three were later tried in Ontario Court for obstruction of justice.

Gay historian Tom Warner believes 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. Warner also notes that this was one of the first occasions that a gay or lesbian topic received extensive press coverage in Canada.

Adrienne Potts (now Adrienne Rosen), Pat Murphy, Sue Wells and Heather (Beyer) Elizabeth performed a song at amateur night at the Brunswick Tavern. Their chosen song, “I Enjoy Being A Dyke” (a parody of "I Enjoy Being a Girl," drew the attention of the bar's owner.

The four were asked by the owner to leave the premises. They refused to leave, and were arrested. The lesbians alleged verbal and physical police harassment as a result of the incident.

The arrest and subsequent trial received extensive media coverage . The three women, Murphy, Rosen, and Elizabeth were represented by lawyer Judy LaMarsh, who was a former Liberal cabinet minister. LaMarsh represented them pro bono because she was outraged by the treatment they endured at the hands of the police.

Warner describes the “anger and concern” of the Toronto gay community, and notes that a public meeting was called at which the "Brunswick Four minus One Defense Fund" (named so because only three people were arrested; Susan Wells was not) was launched.

Three of the Brunswick Four were charged, and two of the women were acquitted in May 1974. One of the four; Potts, served 3 months probation.

After the trial, Potts, Murphy, and Elizabeth charged the arresting officers with assault. The charges were laid by the Crown after the three women produced evidence in the form of doctor's notes and photographs of extensive bruising. Unbeknownst to the women, the police officers had exchanged their hats and the badge numbers so that their identities were confused. At trial, because of this trick, the women couldn't accurately identify the officers. 

Murphy, Potts, and Elizabeth refused to participate in the trial, calling it a scam and miscarriage of justice. When the court clerk ordered everyone to rise for a recess, the women refused to rise. The clerk ordered the court to rise a second time. They refused. They were then charged with criminal contempt of court and led to the cells at Old City Hall. Potts and Elizabeth returned to court hours later to apologize but Murphy refused, earning 30 days in jail. 

The officers were acquitted. Later, The Royal Commission on Toronto Police Practices ordered the three to appear and Murphy and Elizabeth gave testimony. Rosen moved to Vancouver and refused to participate. Pat Murphy died in 2003. 

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