Trudeau’s LGBTQ apology: A Globe guide to how we got here

Posted on November 28, 2017 in Inclusion Policy Context – Politics/Explainer
November 28, 2017.    JOHN IBBITSON

Investigations by The Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson helped spur the federal government to reconcile with Canadians who were discriminated against for their sexuality in the courts, the military and the public service. Here’s a guide to some of the key milestones over the past two years 

1. Everett Klippert’s long, late redemption

Before 1969, homosexuality was a crime in Canada. One of the catalysts for changing that was George Everett Klippert, an Albertan who was convicted for having sex with men and branded a dangerous sex offender – the only person in Canadian history to be labelled as such simply for being gay. The Supreme Court’s 1967 ruling upholding the sentence spurred Pierre Trudeau, then the justice minister, to introduce laws decriminalizing homosexuality.

But Mr. Klippert, who died in 1996, still carried the stigma of a criminal conviction – until February, 2016, when inquiries by The Globe and Mail prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to recommend a pardon for him. The government also said it would explore options for pardoning and apologizing to other LGBTQ people who had suffered discrimination. Here’s what The Globe’s John Ibbitson wrote in his feature story on Mr. Klippert:

Mr. Klippert was no crusader for gay rights. He was just a man who sought out other men for sex, and then foolishly refused to lie about it – or at least to ask for a lawyer. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court’s notorious decision to uphold a law that sentenced him to prison for life just for being gay generated so much indignation that the federal government made homosexual acts legal in Canada six weeks before the Stonewall riots launched the gay-rights movement in the United States. Forty years, less one month, after Everett Klippert began his second prison sentence for having sex with men, same-sex marriage became legal in Canada. And today, the federal government is ready not only to pardon Mr. Klippert, but to consider a pardon for all gays who suffered under unjust laws.


2. Symbolic apologies, real meaning

The prospect of an apology, even a symbolic one, held real significance for other Canadians who suffered during the government’s purges of gays and lesbians from the military and public service. One such person who spoke with Mr. Ibbitson last year was Martine Roy, who was dismissed from the military in 1983 when they found out she was gay. Ms. Roy spoke about how most Canadians couldn’t understand what an apology would mean:

Most people have no idea, Ms. Roy said, what it is like ‘to get kicked out of a job that you really liked, that you worked hard for, because of your sexual orientation –and they go out of their way to make you feel bad about who you are and what you did – that affects your family and your friends and your self-esteem. I had to fight the rest of my life to keep that self-esteem.’

3. Momentum builds down under

In 2016, Australia set a precedent for other governments to follow when the state parliament of Victoria apologized to men who had been criminally convicted for their sexuality. Premier Daniel Andrews’s May 24 address was thought to be the first by any head of government apologizing for prosecuting and persecuting LGBTQ people. Here’s a portion of that address:

These laws did not just punish homosexual acts, they punished homosexual thought. They had no place in a liberal democracy. They have no place anywhere. The Victorian parliament and the Victorian government were at fault. For this we are sorry.

4. Tragedy in Florida, pressure in Parliament

By the summer of 2016, the Canadian government still hadn’t acted on its promised apology, but two events helped put the pressure on. The first was the attack at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in which a gunman killed 49 people, the deadliest U.S. mass shooting until the one in Las Vegas a year later. The second was the release of two reports calling on Ottawa to issue an apology. One report, from the We Demand An Apology Network, put the focus on justice for public servants and military members. The other, prepared by Egale, proposed “a process of ‘truth and rehabilitation'” similar to the one between Indigenous people and Canada’s government:

The absence of a formal government apology is an impediment to the healing of the aggrieved LGBTQ2S community. Together, we can take the first step towards historical acknowledgment and future reconciliation. … As we are doing with First Nations, we should embark on a process of truth and rehabilitation to begin to both acknowledge and undo centuries of harm and to finally make it right.

5. The PM’s point man

In the fall of 2016, Mr. Trudeau put Edmonton MP Randy Boissonnault in charge of framing the apology and deciding how far it would go. His mandate was to listen to those who were convicted and imprisoned before 1969 and issue recommendations to put in place before the next election, based on the issues brought forward in Egale’s report.

Mr. Boissonnault, a gay man who came out to his family in 1998, told The Globe last November that the government would take its time on the apology and “get it right”:

To have the state come into your office and do that to you is objectionable and abhorrent, and it’s why these stories have to be told and become part of the official record.

6. Momentum builds in Ottawa

The apology process showed more signs of progress by the spring and summer of 2017, by which point Britain had issued its own apology and Germany promised compensation for gays and lesbians who had been discriminated against. Earlier this month, the Trudeau government officially set a date, Nov. 28, and then a sum of money: $145-million, the largest amount pledged by any national government to compensate sexual minorities. In addition to individual compensation (as decided by an adjudicator), the money would help pay for a memorial in Ottawa and education projects across Canada.

The week before Mr. Trudeau’s apology in the House of Commons, Mr. Ibbitson profiled eight LGBTQ people of different ages and walks of life who were affected by the government’s legacy of injustice. Not all agreed about whether the apology would be enough for them to forgive, but the consensus was that it represented an important moment:

Though there is still much to be done, with this apology Canada will have gone further to secure and advance the rights of sexual minorities than any other country in the world. In that sense, the apology is really a celebration. There has never been a time and place where it was so okay to be queer.

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