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The history of Canada’s ‘LGBT Purge’ and its 2017 act for redemption

Written by Staff

From the 1940s to the 1990s, thousands of LGBT workers in the Canadian Military and Civil Service were targeted, investigated, and had their careers and lives ruined by the “LGBT Purge,” a government-authorized program of discrimination against gay Canadians.

1940s-50s

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and a panel from National Defense and External Affairs began conducting background checks on civil servants who were believed to be security risks. Most individuals identified were singled out due to what was termed as “moral failings” or “character weaknesses.”

During the post-Cold War period, the Canadian Civil Service underwent an expansion. With this expansion came an intensification of the investigations into the lives of individuals who were suspected to be homosexuals.

National Security agents viewed workers belonging to the LGBT community as a threat because they were perceived to have a tendency to sympathize with Communists. This went on throughout the Cold War. Another theory was that closeted gays and lesbians would be susceptible to blackmail by foreign agents.

One of the challenges for the investigators was the inability to objectively ascertain whether an individual was gay or lesbian. A professor at Carleton University created a device that allegedly could aid in ‘scientifically” ascertaining homosexuality, a device the RCMP dubbed the ”Fruit Machine.” An estimated 9,000 were affected.

In later years the investigators “upgraded” their techniques by using polygraph machines and detailed and demeaning interrogations about the sex lives of their victims. Members of the LGBT community who admitted to being gay or lesbian were honorably — and sometimes dishonorably — discharged from the Canadian Armed Forces.

Members of the LGBT community that worked in these investigating agencies and departments that were affected by the “purge” faced sanctions, which included dismissal, transfer, demotion, denial of opportunities for promotion and other types of discrimination.

It was not unusual for individuals who had confessed to being gay or lesbian to be given the choice of being released from their posts or enduring psychiatric treatment.

Members of the LGBT community suffered tremendously as a result of these policies and investigations. Individuals who were confirmed as being gay or lesbian often had notes on their service record that they were “deviants” and “not advantageously employable.” They were often denied benefits, severance, pensions, and those who managed to stay on were denied opportunities for promotion.

The actions of the Canadian government caused irreparable psychological trauma to their LGBT employees. Most individuals who were suspected of being homosexuals were subjected to surveillance and interrogations that included degrading personal questioning.

1960s-90s

The “purge” began aggressively searching for gay civil servants through interrogations and surveillance of bars and hangouts. It initially focused largely on the Navy and External Affairs, and broadened to other parts of the public service in the 1960s, says Gary Kinsman, sociologist and co-author of “The Canadian War on Queers: National Security as Sexual Regulation.” Friends and acquaintances turned on each other under the threat of criminal charges.

“The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation,” Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau said when he introduced modernizing reforms to the Criminal Code in 1967 that would decriminalize homosexual acts.

Then in 1969 Canadians saw a partial decriminalization of homosexual acts in a very limited ‘private’ realm between two individuals aged 21 and over. The ruling in the Klippert Case would become the catalyst for change. The case, R v. Klippert, involved a gay mechanic living in the Northwestern Territories. In an unrelated investigation into arson, Klippert informed investigators that he had previously been convicted of consensual homosexual acts in Calgary. The police charged him with gross indecency and he was sentenced to three years in prison. While serving his sentence the Territorial Court declared him a dangerous sexual offender and sentenced him to indefinite preventative detention. Klippert appealed this finding to the Supreme Court. However, the Court found that all sexually active homosexuals could be classified as “dangerous sexual offenders.”

There was general public outrage arising out of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Klippert case. After the decision was released, the Liberal MP of the North West Territories denounced the ruling and called for amendments to the Criminal Code. This outrage soon led to the implementation of Bill C-150 which decriminalized homosexual acts between consenting adults. This change in the criminal law did not end the discrimination, however.

Certain actions of the “purge” continued until 1992, leaving tens of thousands of lives in ruin from imprisonment, rape, suicide and psychological damage.

2017

The Canadian government, in an announcement Nov. 28, will pay up to 110 million Canadian dollars, or $85 million, to compensate victims of the “LGBT Purge.” Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also made a public apology to the victims and their families. In part he said, “It is with shame and sorrow and deep regret for the things we have done that I stand here today and say: We were wrong.” He added that in acting to right these wrongs, vowing never to repeat them, that “we can begin to heal.”

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