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Justin Trudeau to apologize for historic persecution of gay Canadians

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in Aylmer, Que., on July 20.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

As early as this autumn, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will apologize on behalf of all Canadians to those who were imprisoned, fired from their jobs or otherwise persecuted in the past because of their sexuality.

That apology is a key element in a broad range of reforms that will collectively represent one of the greatest advances for sexual minorities in Canada's history.

"This is a long-awaited moment and a very emotional moment, to be honest," said Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale, a national organization that advocates for the rights of sexual minorities. "For the government to recognize the damage that it caused, the harm that it caused, to thousands and thousands of Canadians is a historic moment for our communities."

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The Globe and Mail has learned of the planned reforms from numerous sources within and outside the government.

In essence, the Liberals have decided to act on most or all of the recommendations of The Just Society, a report submitted to the government in June by Egale. The title refers to former prime minister Pierre Trudeau's program for rights protection and social reform.

Those recommendations include:

  • Apologizing to people who were convicted of gross indecency for committing homosexual acts in the years before 1969, when same-sex acts between consensual adults were decriminalized. Those convictions will be pardoned, expunged or in some other fashion stricken from the records of those convicted;
  • Apologizing to those who were dismissed from the public service, discharged from the military or otherwise discriminated against in government work because they were homosexual. It was only in the 1990s that the federal government ceased efforts to identify and expel homosexuals in the military;
  • Eliminating the difference in the age of consent for sexual acts. The current age of consent is 16, but it is 18 for anal intercourse, which discriminates against and stigmatizes young homosexuals.
  • Examining whether and how to compensate those who suffered past discrimination because of who they were or whom they loved. This could involve individual compensation and/or funding for programs or services;
  • Requiring all police officers or others who work in the justice system to receive human-rights training, with an emphasis on the historic wrong of treating members of sexual minorities as criminals and on the current bias that all too often still exists;
  • Providing similar training to Customs officials, who still are more likely to ban homosexual materials from crossing the border, while permitting their heterosexual equivalents;
  • Implementing procedures to protect the dignity of transgender or intersex persons in prisons or jails;
  • Eliminating laws, such as keeping a bawdy house, that can be used to criminally charge those who visit a bathhouse or who practise group sex.

Some actions can be taken immediately; others will take longer, though the government is committed to fully acting on the Just Society recommendations before the next election.

Background: How Ottawa punished thousands of public servants for being gay

Investigation: Everett Klippert's story: The long, late redemption of a man punished for being gay in the 1960s

Editorial: Gay Canadians, and an apology due

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The government will appoint a senior official to co-ordinate and consult with Egale and other stakeholders on implementing the recommendations. The announcement of these measures could come later this month or in early September.

The Prime Minister's Office would not confirm or deny the facts of this story. Cameron Ahmad, press secretary to Mr. Trudeau, issued the following statement: "We have committed to working with Egale and other groups on an ongoing basis to bring an end to discrimination and further guarantee equality for all citizens. We are currently carefully reviewing the recommendations in their report, and will have more to say in the near future."

These reforms stem from a series of Globe stories that examined the cases of people who were imprisoned or who were persecuted within the public service and the military because of their sexuality.

Those stories included an investigation of the case of the late Everett Klippert, who was designated a dangerous sexual offender and sentenced effectively to life in prison in the 1960s. A 1967 Supreme Court ruling upholding that conviction prompted Pierre Trudeau, who was then justice minister, to introduce legislation decriminalizing same-sex acts.

The Globe series prompted Egale to produce a report on how the federal government could comprehensively respond to past and current injustices directed at members of sexual minorities. In choosing to act on that report, Justin Trudeau has decided to complete a process begun by his father almost 50 years ago.

The government's planned reforms place Canada at the forefront of countries that are moving to redress past wrongs committed against members of sexual minorities. Germany and Australia are taking similar actions.

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Mr. Klippert's niece, Katherine Griebel, believes that he would be pleased by the reforms and his historic role in prompting them. "I think it would bring him a quiet satisfaction," she said.

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About the Author
Writer-at-large

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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