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Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 8, 2016. Photo by Blair Gable (Blair Gable For The Globe and Mail)
Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 8, 2016. Photo by Blair Gable (Blair Gable For The Globe and Mail)

Ottawa moves on plans for apology to those wronged over sexuality Add to ...

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has placed Edmonton MP Randy Boissonnault in charge of defining the scope and nature of an apology and other acts to redress discrimination against sexual minorities in Canada, The Globe and Mail has learned.

As well, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould will introduce legislation on Tuesday that will equalize the age of consent for all forms of sexual intercourse, one of the last remaining legislative stigmas facing sexual minorities.

“The fight to end discrimination is not over and a lot of hard work still needs to be done,” Mr. Trudeau said in the statement that will be issued on Tuesday. The Globe obtained a copy in advance.

Related: Ottawa behind schedule in redressing past persecution of homosexuals

Related: Former military members who were discharged over sexuality launch class-action suits

Read more: The power of an apology

The move comes after Globe stories earlier this year that chronicled historical discrimination against sexual minorities in Canada, including men who were convicted of gross indecency in the years before homosexual acts were decriminalized in 1969, and men and women who were persecuted in the public service and military because of their sexuality.

After those stories, Egale, a national organization that advocates for sexual minorities, produced a report recommending reforms to redress past injustices and eliminate legal discrimination that still exists. One of its central proposals was a formal apology for acts of past discrimination against Canada’s LGBT community.

Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale, said she was “very happy” with the government’s announcement, “but at the same time, we don’t know the details.” Ms. Kennedy and Douglas Elliott, a lawyer and lead writer of the Egale report, will meet with Mr. Boissonnault on Tuesday. Earlier this month, Mr. Elliott launched a class action lawsuit against the government on behalf of people who were discharged from the military because of their sexuality. He said that lawsuit will continue, although it could be overtaken by the government’s action at a later date.

All in all, said Ms. Kennedy, “we’re very optimistic.”

A senior government official, who spoke on background, said the government is committed to issuing that apology. Its scope, whether and how to offer official pardons for those who were convicted, and what if any financial compensation should be offered will be part of Mr. Boissonneault’s mandate. The government is committed to resolving all issues before the next election.

“The government of Canada welcomed [the Egale] report, supports the values, principles and objectives it espouses, and will work with Egale and other partners to take action against the discrimination the report describes,” states the release.

The government has already committed to rehabilitating the reputation of Edward Klippert, who was sentenced to indefinite detention – in effect life imprisonment– in the 1960s for repeatedly having sex with other men. Mr. Klippert was released from prison in 1971 and died in 1996.

As well as calling for an apology and redress for the criminally convicted and for those purged from the public service and military because they were homosexual, the Egale report recommends, among other steps, training for police, judges and customs officials to recognize and prevent discrimination based on sexuality, and legal guarantees against police harassment in establishments such a bath houses.

“I look forward to collaborating closely with Egale and other organizations in the coming months to advance the government’s agenda for equality,” Mr. Boissonnault is quoted as saying in the statement.

The new legislation will equalize the age of consent for anal intercourse, which is currently 18, two years older than the age of consent for vaginal intercourse. The age difference is widely viewed in the gay community as discriminatory toward young homosexuals.

The government has already moved on legislation to ban discrimination against transgender Canadians.

Although each country is approaching the issue differently, Germany, Great Britain and at least one state government in Australia have already offered, or announced plans to offer, apologies for acts of historical discrimination against homosexuals.

The Trudeau government’s commitment to protecting the rights of sexual minorities stands in marked contrast to the incoming administration in the United States of Donald Trump, who has been accused of fomenting intolerance toward racial and sexual minorities and women.

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