The Liberal government's recent decision to pardon men who were imprisoned simply because they were gay will make Canada the first country in the world to embrace such a policy.
But administrative obstacles could make Justin Trudeau's promise to offer those individual pardons next to impossible unless the government issues a blanket decree.
"Canada would be breaking new ground," said Douglas Elliott, a lawyer who has advocated for the LGBT community since the 1970s. "It would be fantastic to see Canada getting ahead of the pack, again."
Family members and gay-rights activists are celebrating the Prime Minister's decision to pardon Everett Klippert, the only Canadian to have been labelled a dangerous sexual offender because he was a homosexual. Mr. Trudeau decided to pardon Mr. Klippert after his office was apprised of the case last week by The Globe and Mail.
"It's just wonderful, it's a great idea," Donald Klippert, Everett's nephew, said on Sunday. Everett Klippert never sought out publicity after his release from prison, and declined to participate in parade marches or protests when gay-rights activists sought him out in later years.
"I think he'd be embarrassed by all the attention" his pardon is generating, Donald Klippert said. "On the other hand, I think he'd be very proud of the fact that his sacrifice, his time in prison, that something good came out of it."
Everett Klippert's imprisonment led to the decriminalization of homosexuality, and it is now expected to lead to the pardon of thousands of men who were also imprisoned.
"I was so pleased with this, I was quite taken aback," said Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale, which advocates for sexual minorities. "It's great to see our government stepping back into the conversation in such a positive way."
Canada was among the first countries to extend full equality to gays and lesbians, and to legalize gay marriage. But during the decade of Conservative government, there was no real progress on issues regarding sexual minorities.
In 1967, the Supreme Court upheld a judicial decision to declare Everett Klippert a dangerous sexual offender, which was effectively a life sentence. Mr. Klippert's only crime, for which he was twice imprisoned, was that had sought out men for sex and was likely to do so again if released.
Outrage over the court's ruling led Pierre Trudeau, as justice minister and then as prime minister, to put forward legislation legalizing homosexual acts between consenting adults. But even though the law passed in 1969, Mr. Klippert was not released until 1971, after serving almost 10 years in prison. He died in 1996 at the age of 69.
Even more significant than Mr. Klippert's posthumous pardon may be the government's promise to review all the cases of men who were convicted of gross indecency (homosexual acts short of intercourse) or buggery before 1969.
"There are people that we are finding now who have restrictions on travel because they have a criminal record, or some who want to volunteer for organizations who have been prevented from doing so," NDP MP Randall Garrison said. "They are quite elderly, but nonetheless, this places restrictions on their lives." The NDP has advocated in the past for pardons for such men through a private-member's bill.
But it may be practically impossible to conduct individual reviews of the files of the hundreds, or more likely thousands – no one really knows – of cases of gay men who were convicted of gross indecency or buggery.
While police databases could provide the names of those still living, the records of those who have died would be in local courthouses or provincial archives. Many might have been thrown out; others would be incomplete.
The obvious alternative would be a blanket pardon, although that might inadvertently include someone who used violence or who had sex with a minor.
However "my feeling from my investigations would be that the vast majority of these convictions were for consensual activities," said Gary Kinsman, a professor emeritus at Laurentian University who specializes in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, "and that a blanket pardon – aside from clear instances were coercion or violence was involved – should be undertaken."
Mr. Elliott believes the most effective solution would be to issue a blanket pardon, provided the act for which the man was convicted would not have been criminal had it had been committed with a woman. (The past laws do not appear to have contemplated the possibility of same-sex acts involving women.)
Since the apology and pardon given to Alan Turing – who cracked the Enigma code during the Second World War, and whose conviction for gross indecency led to his suicide in 1954 – a campaign is under way in Great Britain to pardon an estimated 49,000 men who were convicted of gross indecency. The Conservative government has taken no action.
Prof. Kinsman and Mr. Elliott maintain that other past and present injustices against the LGBT community still need to be addressed, such as the discrimination up until relatively recently against homosexuals in the public service and military, and the different ages of consent for vaginal and anal intercourse.
Nonetheless, Mr. Elliott believes that pardons for Mr. Klippert and others who suffered as he did deserve to be celebrated. "It's a good day for justice."