Ottawa to apologize to those who suffered because of sexuality

Jean-Marc Leger May 17, 2017 0
Ottawa to apologize to those who suffered because of sexuality

Justin Trudeau will formally apologize this fall to the thousands of Canadians who suffered at the hands of the federal government because of their sexuality, The Globe and Mail has learned.

The statement will most likely be delivered in the House of Commons after a summer of consultation with advocates who, for years, have been demanding an apology and compensation for those who were persecuted because of whom they loved.

The Prime Minister promised last year to consider pardons and apologies for men convicted of gross indecency in response to a story in The Globe that examined the case of Everett Klippert, who was sentenced to life in prison in the 1960s for repeatedly committing homosexual acts.

Further stories examined the cases of government workers and members of the military who were dismissed because of their sexuality even after homosexual acts were legalized in 1969.

The last recorded dismissal occurred in the late 1980s.

Last November, Mr. Trudeau appointed Edmonton MP Randy Boissonnault as his special adviser on LGBT issues.

But activists representing sexual minorities became increasingly vocal after months of government inaction, even as other countries moved forward.

In March of this year, Germany introduced legislation to give financial compensation to men who were convicted in the past of committing homosexual acts. Britain has apologized and pardoned men similarly convicted, including posthumous pardons. New Zealand is moving to expunge similar convictions.

With Ottawa dragging its heels, former members of the public service and military launched a class-action lawsuit last year demanding an apology and redress.

Now Canada is catching up, and even moving ahead of other nations in some respects. Mr. Boissonnault will issue a statement confirming the apology on Wednesday, which is the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, according to a government source speaking on background. The government has also promised to act on recommendations of a report that Egale, which advocates for sexual minorities in Canada, submitted after the Globe stories. Those recommendations include equalizing the age of consent for all sexual acts, which the government is acting on, and eliminating other laws that, intentionally or unintentionally, discriminate against sexual minorities.

The House has already passed legislation protecting the rights of transgender Canadians, although the bill is stalled in the Senate.

The consultations this summer will consider several elements that need to be resolved, including:

  • The wording of the Prime Minister’s apology;
  • The appropriate venue for the apology. The House is thought to be the likely location;
  • Whether people who were convicted of gross indecency should be required to apply for pardons, or whether a blanket pardon is more appropriate, provided no one is pardoned who committed a genuine crime;
  • Whether people who were drummed out of the public service or military are entitled to pensions;
  • In a broader sense what, if any, financial compensation should be offered along with the apology.

Although Canada has fallen behind some other countries on the question of an apology, it would be a pioneer in acknowledging the harm done to people in the military and public service whose careers were damaged or derailed because of their sexuality.

Other files, however, remain problematic. The government says it can do little other than protest against the persecution of homosexuals in Chechnya by their own government, despite calls to accept those persecuted as refugees.

And the Liberals struggle to find the right approach to advocate for the rights of sexual minorities within the Commonwealth without angering other member states.

It is unclear what impact the apology will have on the class-action lawsuit.

Article written by John Ibbitson on the The Globe and Mail Website. Follow the link here.

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