Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

AdChoices
Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson.
Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson.

Ottawa behind schedule in redressing past persecution of homosexuals Add to ...

In a few short months, Canada has gone from leader to laggard in the movement to redress the past persecution of homosexuals.

And with no good reason. A senior government official said there are no Justice Department lawyers warning about liability, no strategists fearful of political fallout.

Instead, the government has been dragging its feet for months for the simple reason that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his advisers can’t find the time to meet and agree on how to proceed.

Human rights are not a casual matter, to be gotten around to after everything else has been taken care of. This government considers protecting the rights of minorities a core priority. It’s astonishing that a prime minister who takes such pride in marching at Pride can’t find the time to actually act on his commitments.

Just to remind: Earlier this year, based on a series of stories in The Globe and Mail, the government committed to reviewing the cases of men who were convicted of gross indecency simply because they were homosexual.

It also promised to examine the many cases of men and women who were purged from the public service because of their sexuality.

And this summer, it welcomed a report by Egale, a national organization that advocates for sexual minorities, that called for action to redress laws and practices that still discriminate against Canada’s LGBT community.

But since then the file has lain dormant, with Mr. Trudeau often on the road, and other items – important ones, granted, such as action on climate change – filling the agenda.

Meanwhile, others have acted. As Dylan Robertson reports, the German government has decided to pardon 50,000 men who were criminally convicted for being gay after the war, and to offer redress where appropriate. The government expects about 5,000 men to submit a claim.

Since Canada’s population is about 40 per cent that of Germany’s, the equivalent numbers here could be 20,000 men pardoned and 2,000 compensated.

Germany is not acting alone. British Prime Minister Theresa May will introduce a bill called the Alan Turing Law, named after the famed mathematician, that will posthumously exonerate all those who, like Mr. Turing, were criminally convicted of being homosexual.

Earlier this year, a British government official apologized for policies that, until the 1990s, prohibited homosexuals from working in the intelligence services.

The Canadian government intends to go much further. Not only would there be an apology and compensation for those criminally convicted, there would be similar redress for those in the public service and military who lost their jobs because of their sexuality. There would be legislation to, among other things, establish a common age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual acts. Mr. Trudeau is also committed to a bill that would prohibit discrimination against transgender Canadians.

This is what the government intends. As for what it has done – crickets.

There are two arguments against offering retroactive justice for homosexuals who were persecuted or prosecuted. One is that the present should not be held responsible for the sins of the past. The other is that the money could be better spent elsewhere.

But the sums are nominal: The Germans will be spending about $45-million (Canadian) on compensation; the Canadian equivalent would be about $18-million.

And apologies matter. In our ahistorical age, had the Canadian government not apologized for the internment of Japanese prisoners or for abuses against First Nations children at residential schools, this generation of Canadians might not even know such abuses ever took place. Bringing the past into the present reminds both young and old of wrongs that were committed that we vow never to commit again.

Mr. Trudeau is reportedly determined to right the wrongs committed against sexual minorities. But nothing can be done until he agrees to launch a process of review and reconciliation. That process will take several years to complete. Why is he taking so long to get it started?

Report Typo/Error

Follow on Twitter: @JohnIbbitson

Also on The Globe and Mail

Mulcair calls for removal of Tory candidate over anti-gay comment (CP Video)

Next story

loading

In the know

The Globe Recommends

loading

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular