About the Purge
Canada has a sordid history of what can be termed as state-sponsored homophobia, bi-phobia, and transphobia. For decades there was a policy aimed at oppressing and consequently criminalizing same-sex conduct through “heteronormalization.” Heterosexual relationships were depicted by society at large as being ‘normal’. Conversely, same-sex relationships were often suppressed and depicted as savage or abnormal sexuality through state-backed churches and criminal law.
The LGBT community has historically been the subject of prosecution and discrimination in the Canadian Armed Forces, RCMP, and Federal Public Service. The campaign to identify and purge LGBT Federal Public Servants on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression in the Federal Public Service and military began in the 1950s and continued for decades.
Michelle Douglas, a lesbian army officer, challenged the LGBT purge. It was not until the settlement in her case against the Department of National Defence in 1992 that the express policy of institutional discrimination officially came to an end. Prime Ministers like Brian Mulroney condemned national security campaigns against the LGBT community in Parliament. However, there has never been an apology and there has never been any redress for the terrible historical wrong done to thousands of Canadians, victimized solely because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
Decriminalization of Homosexual Acts
In 1969 Canadians saw the partial and limited 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. R v Klippert involved a gay mechanic living in the Northwestern Territories. In an unrelated investigation into arson, Mr. 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 Klippert was serving his sentence the Territorial Court declared Klippert a dangerous sexual offender and sentenced him to indefinite preventative detention. Klippert appealed this finding to the Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court found that all sexually active homosexuals could be classified as“dangerous sexual offenders.”
The Supreme Court’s decision in the Klippert case aroused widespread public outrage. Once this decision was made public, the Liberal member for the Northwest Territories denounced it and called for changes to the Criminal Code. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, then Minister of Justice, famously reacted by observing that “the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.” This outrage soon led to the implementation of Bill C-150, which decriminalized acts of homosexuality between consenting adults. However, this legislative amendment did not curb discrimination.
“The State Has No Place in the Bedrooms of the Nation” Pierre Trudeau”
– Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau, when he introduced modernizing reforms to the Criminal Code in 1967 that decriminalized homosexual acts
The Purge of Members of the LGBT community in the Military and Civil Service
In the 1940s the RCMP and a panel from National Defense and External Affairs began conducting background checks on civil servants who were believed to be security risks. Most of the individuals identified were singled out due to what was termed as “moral failings” or “character weaknesses”, including homosexuals.
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.” Thousands 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.
The LGBT Purge extended to the RCMP, External Affairs, and other government Departments and agencies.
Members of the LGBT community that worked in 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 one 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.
The Canadian Military only ended its official exclusionary policies in the early 1990s as a result of Michelle Douglas’ court case. Ms. Douglas was an Operations Officer with the Special Investigative Unit. During her tenure with the Canadian military, she was questioned about her sexuality. She eventually admitted to being a lesbian. In 1990 Ms. Douglas commenced an action against the government seeking damages and a declaration that her Charter rights had been infringed.
The Canadian Forces settled the case and agreed to stop their exclusionary policies against the LGBT service members.
Although no longer systematic, the purge and discrimination against members of the LGBT community continued for many years owing to an enduring culture of homophobia, bi-phobia, and transphobia in parts of the Canadian civil service, especially the Canadian Armed Forces and the RCMP.
The LGBT community’s pursuit of justice and calls for redress have long been overlooked by successive federal governments in Canada. To date, the judicial system has played an important role in obtaining justice for the LGBT community.
It is our hope and our objective through this class action that the Federal Government will finally move towards making amends to the victims of the LGBT Purge.
The Government should make amends to those it wrongly persecuted. An apology – and redress – is long overdue.