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Federal government to announce advisory council for apology to LGBT Canadians

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to questions during a news conference after a Liberal caucus retreat in Kelowna, B.C., on Thursday September 7, 2017. The Trudeau government has made advancing the rights of sexual minorities a major priority.


The Liberal government is expected to soon announce the membership of an advisory council charged with crafting an apology to LGBT Canadians who suffered in the past at the hands of federal officials. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will deliver that apology before the end of the year.

Gary Kinsman, a professor emeritus at Laurentian University, said he has been asked to appear before the new council next week as part of a delegation from the We Demand an Apology Network, which advocates for an apology for LGBT public servants who were discriminated against.

"There needs to be a broad-ranging and comprehensive apology," Prof. Kinsman said on Thursday, "an official state apology recognizing and taking responsibility for what they did and the problems they created in people's lives."

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After the Second World War, and right up until the late 1980s, federal officials sought to identify homosexuals in the public service and military who were seen as untrustworthy and at risk of blackmail by foreign powers.

Those targeted were subject to interrogation, harassment and dismissal. Many quit rather than submit themselves, friends and family to such harassment.

In 1989, Michelle Douglas was discharged from the military for being, as the regulation put it, "not advantageously employable due to homosexuality." Her subsequent lawsuit helped end the practice.

"Now that the prospect of an apology is a reality, I realize just how much it means to me," she said on Thursday. "I would like to hear the Prime Minister sincerely apologize for what was done to so many. … I want to hear the words 'I am sorry.' I think that will be an important turning point for our healing and as a way to fully recognize our service to Canada."

As well as apologizing for decades of discrimination toward sexual minorities in the public service, advocates say the government must expunge the records of any investigations, so that they do not become public in the future, and make public any documents that mandated purges of sexual minorities within the public sector.

One issue is whether those whose careers in the public service and military suffered because of their sexuality should be eligible for financial redress for such things as lost income and pensions.

Douglas Elliott, a lawyer who is representing LGBT public servants and members of the military in a class-action lawsuit against Ottawa, hopes the apology will include redress that will make continuing the lawsuit unnecessary. "It's quite possible that both may happen at the same time," he said.

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The Trudeau government has made advancing the rights of sexual minorities a major priority. It has passed legislation protecting transgender Canadians from discrimination. Other legislation seeks to remove outdated laws and language that discriminate against LGBT Canadians.

And the government has brought in as refugees 31 Chechen men and others from the North Caucasus region who had been detained and tortured because they were gay, or who feared such detention.

Some Canadians complain of apology fatigue–of a federal government that seems to be forever saying it's sorry for its past treatment of minorities.

But "it's never wrong to say you're sorry," said Kristopher Wells, a director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at University of Alberta. "If we want to build the future, as the saying goes, we have to remember and acknowledge the past."

"The Fruit Machine" looks at the lasting impacts of anti-gay policies directed towards Canadian public servants during the Cold War era Globe and Mail Update
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