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Ottawa sets date for LGBTQ apology, but compensation not yet settled

The Pride flags fly on Parliament Hill following a ceremony with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa, on June 14, 2017.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Advocates for people criminally charged or fired from their government job simply because they were gay are celebrating news that, on Nov. 28, Justin Trudeau will deliver a historic apology in the House for their mistreatment.

"I never thought I'd live to see the day," said Douglas Elliott, the lawyer who led a class-action lawsuit on behalf of those who lost their jobs. Mr. Elliott has been advocating for the rights of sexual minorities since the 1970s.

But, he added that there is still no agreement in principle on a financial settlement, even though the government has sent out invitations to people who were victims of the purge to come to Ottawa, and Mr. Trudeau has confirmed the date.

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Read more: The long, late redemption of a Canadian punished for being gay in the 1960s

Read more: For persecuted gay Canadians, a symbolic apology holds real meaning

"On November 28, the Government will offer a formal apology to LGBTQ2 Canadians in the House – for the persecution & injustices they have suffered, and to advance together on a path to equality & inclusion," the Prime Minister tweeted on Sunday.

Mr. Trudeau's apology is expected to be the most comprehensive ever offered by any national government for past persecution of sexual minorities. The apology is the culmination of almost two years of investigations and reports, beginning with a series of stories in The Globe and Mail in 2016 that examined the question of past injustices visited on sexual minorities in Canada by their own government.

"It's been a long time coming, but I'm pleased it's happening," said Gary Kinsman, a sociologist at Laurentian University who has been campaigning for decades for such an apology and redress.

"But, I won't put on my dancing shoes for a celebration until I actually see what's in the apology," he added.

According to Mr. Elliott, the settlement will include financial compensation for any person fired or pressured into quitting the military or public service because they were homosexual.

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The compensation will be subject to an overall limit, which Mr. Elliott would not disclose. There will also be a fund to memorialize victims of the purge.

Mr. Elliott said he does not know how many people will be eligible for compensation. Some will have died since the purge ended in the late 1980s, but he believes "thousands of people were affected by this" and will probably qualify.

As well, the government is expected to apologize to those who were convicted for committing homosexual acts in the years when such acts were illegal. It is not known whether this will extend to people who were charged during police sweeps, such as the bathhouse raids of 1981.

Mr. Trudeau is expected to offer pardons and to expunge the records of those who were convicted.

In June, 2016, Egale, a national organization that advocates on behalf of sexual minorities, published a report listing a series of actions the government could take to redress past and current injustices. A year ago, the Liberal government committed to implementing that report's recommendations. The formal, public apology by the Prime Minister on behalf of all Canadians is the culmination of that commitment.

"I'm really quite emotional," said Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale. "For those who were directly impacted, I hope it gives them some vindication."

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Ms. Kennedy said she had never expected to see such a day.

"Because we have been shut out for so long, and because being recognized is something we have fought for for so long, to have the Prime Minister of our country stand up and publicly acknowledge that on behalf of everyone in Canada is huge."

The government has already taken other steps to reduce discrimination against sexual and gender minorities, such as introducing or passing legislation that bans discrimination against transgender Canadians and equalizing the laws of consent for intercourse.

Until 1969, homosexual acts were a crime in Canada. Michelle Douglas, who was discharged from the military in 1989 for being homosexual, was the last person victimized by that policy. Her lawsuit led the military, under court order, to lift the ban on gays in 1992.

Editor’s Note An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Gary Kinsman as a political scientist at Laurentian University. In fact, he is a sociologist.
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About the Author
Writer-at-large

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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