“This is the devastating story of people who were branded criminals by the government – people who lost their livelihoods, and in some cases, their lives”
Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau gave a heart felt apology for decades-long campaigns run by previous governments to rid the military and public service of the LGBTQIA people, which did not leave a dry eye in the room.
The Canadian Government, from the 1950s to the early 1990s monitored and interrogated civil servants who were believed to be gay or transgender. Thousands in the public service, military and Royal Canadian Mounted Police were fired or intimidated into leaving their jobs.
Speaking in the House of Commons, the Canadian prime minister said the thinking gay people would be at increased risk of blackmail by Canada’s adversaries was nothing short of a witch-hunt.
“This is the devastating story of people who were branded criminals by the government – people who lost their livelihoods, and in some cases, their lives” said Trudeau.
“These aren’t distant practices of governments long forgotten. This happened systematically, in Canada, with a timeline more recent than any of us would like to admit.”
It was said to be an inside job where the public service, the military and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police spied on their own people, inside and outside of the workplaces. Canadians were monitored for anything that could be construed as “gay behavior”, with community groups, bars, parks and even people’s homes under watch. When the government felt that enough evidence had accumulated, some suspects were taken to secret locations in the dark of night to be interrogated.
He said those who admitted they were gay were fired, discharged, or intimidated into resignation.
“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. We apologize. I am sorry. We are sorry,” Trudeau said to a standing ovation.
The apology was the latest in a series of statements by the two-year-old Liberal government seeking to make amends for historical wrongs. Trudeau used a speech to the UN general assembly in September to acknowledge Canada has failed its indigenous people.
The government also introduced legislation that would allow people to apply to have their criminal convictions for consensual sexual activity between same-sex partners erased from public record permanently.
It has also earmarked more than $100m Canadian (US $78m) to compensate members of the military and other federal agencies whose careers were sidelined or ended due to their sexual orientation, part of a class-action settlement with employees who were investigated, sanctioned and sometimes fired as part of the so-called “gay purge”.
“Those arrested and charged were purposefully and vindictively shamed. Their names appeared in newspapers in order to humiliate them, and their families. Lives were destroyed. And tragically, lives were lost,” Trudeau said.
‘The only way out is through’ they say and in order to move on to a brighter more respectable future, acknowledging the past is important. Trudeau has taken a commendable step in the right direction to ensure a safer place for Canadians. Hopefully, other countries will get there as well.