The Canadian government will pay up to 110 million Canadian dollars to compensate the victims of so-called “gay purge”, decades of government-authorized discrimination against gay Canadians. This announcement came on 28 November followed by a speech in the House of Commons in Ottawa by Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, who apologized to the victims.
The government program called gay purge lasted for more than 30 years and ended only in 1992, caused thousands to lose their jobs and sometimes face prosecution because of their sexual orientation. The policy affected Canadians in the military, the public service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
In a speech to the victims and their survivors who had gathered in the gallery of the House of Commons, PM Trudeau apologized for “Canada’s role in the systemic oppression, criminalisation and violence” against sexual minorities, said a report by The New York Times. “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,” he said. PM Trudeau further added, “It is my hope that in talking about these injustices, vowing never to repeat them and acting to these wrongs, we can begin to heal. To all the LGBTQ2 people across this country who we have been harmed in countless ways, we are sorry,” he said.
This apology was the latest in the series of statements by the two-year-old Liberal government seeking to make amends for historical wrongdoing. “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,” PM Trudeau said.
Stories of government-sponsored oppression
To identify targets, the authorities conducted surveillance, made threats and even developed a so-called “fruit machine” built in order to detect homosexuality. 9,000 people were under investigation at one point, according to some estimates. The program continued until 1992, ruining tens of thousands of lives though homosexuality was decriminalised in the country in 1969. Thousands of people continued to endure shame and punishment ranging from loss of security clearance and jobs to imprisonment to “gross indecency and physical abuse.”
Some lesbian women were raped by men who told them that it would “correct” their sexual orientation. Some victims are also believed to have committed suicide after their careers were destroyed.
Simon Thwaites, 55 lost his house and livelihood after he was forced out of the Canadian army in 1989 because he was gay. He said his excitement over the settlement was dampened owing to the trauma he had to endure for decades. Mr Thwaites said, “It’s a great step but you cannot take away the hurt and damage in one day”
PM Trudeau’s historic settlement, which gay-rights advocates have hailed as unprecedented anywhere in the world, are the latest steps to address the devastating effects of the discriminatory program.
Several petitions were filed which documented the grievances of oppression and discrimination against the LGBTQ community members. “It’s something we can be extremely proud of in Canada”, said R. Douglas Elliott, the lead lawyer of the plaintiff’s lawsuit. “At a time when America is going backwards, we are moving forward and facing this historic injustice. We are making reparations to the victims and an unshakable commitment that this discrimination will never be repeated.”
The settlement totals 145 million Canadian dollars, will allow surviving victims who have faced government retaliation between 1962 to 1996 will be able to claim the compensation. They will also be eligible for financial compensation ranging up to 150,000 Canadian dollars for those who experienced severe psychological and physical harm.
Because many of the victims have died, the Canadian government has allocated 15 million Canadian dollars for an array of reconciliatory and memorial measures in their honour. These will include the construction of a national monument in Ottawa and educational programs on the history of discrimination against gay and transgender people.
The Canadian government also proposed legislation that will allow the criminal records of those convicted of sexual activity with same-sex partners to be permanently destroyed.