On Thursday morning, the National Capital Commission’s board of directors unanimously approved the site for a new monument to LGBTQ Canadians who suffered past persecution, especially those who were purged from the public service, military and RCMP.
Homophobic remarks from Conservative leadership aspirant Richard Décarie the evening before demonstrated why such a remembrance is needed.
In the progress toward a more tolerant, inclusive society, the new monument represents an important step forward. It is up to Conservative Party members to decide whether Mr. Décarie’s candidacy would represent a step back.
The planned monument flows from a landmark apology delivered in 2017 in the House of Commons by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The apology flowed from a report by Egale, which advocates for LGBTQ Canadians, recommending redress for those who suffered from postwar efforts by the federal government to expel homosexuals from its ranks. The report flowed from a series of Globe and Mail articles that chronicled the historical persecution and prosecution of LGBTQ Canadians.
For those who know Ottawa, the site is the piece of land to the east of Wellington Street, behind the National Archives building.
The design for the monument will be chosen next year, and the project completed by 2024. The overall budget is set at $8-million, and is part of a class-action settlement between the federal government and victims of the purge.
Although the Portage Bridge is nearby, advocates of the site describe it as peaceful and tranquil. But it can also accommodate up to 2,000 people for a public event.
“We can already imagine the gatherings that will happen there,” said Michelle Douglas, executive director of the LGBT Purge Fund, which manages funds from the settlement. She was thrilled by the board’s swift approval, and moved by the remarks of Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who came out last year.
The monument will commemorate "a part of our history that we should all be ashamed of, " the mayor told the board, “and at the same time celebrate what a diverse and accepting and loving country we live in, notwithstanding a small minority that have hate in their hearts."
Only Mr. Décarie knows what’s in his heart. The former aide to Stephen Harper in the years before he became prime minister appeared on CTV’s Power Play on Wednesday, where he had a lively exchange with host Evan Solomon. Mr. Décarie described himself as a “full spectrum” conservative.
A Décarie government would cut federal funding for abortion services. And on the question of same-sex marriage: “When we talk to real people on the street … we are hearing the same thing. We are all mixed up, our kids are mixed up.”
Mr. Décarie dismissed the LGBTQ designation as “a Liberal term. I don’t talk about people that way.” He described homosexuality as “a choice … I think government has a responsibility to encourage traditional values.”
How much do these remarks reflect the attitude of the Conservative grassroots? We can’t know for a fact. We do know that other Conservatives swiftly condemned the remarks.
“This statement is ridiculous,” tweeted Durham MP Erin O’Toole, who is also running for the leadership. “The Conservative Party of Canada is open to ALL Canadians. Our membership made it clear when we voted to recognize same-sex marriage.” Other tweets of censure came from former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay, who is also seeking the leadership, and from Carleton MP Pierre Poilievre, who ended his bid on Thursday.
“Hi Mr. Décarie,” tweeted Eric Duncan, Conservative MP for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry, who is gay. "I don’t know you at all. But I’m a proud new Conservative MP from rural Eastern Ontario. We should probably chat about my life ‘choices.’”
Any candidate who wants to get on the final ballot must acquire 1,000 signatures from party members in at least 30 ridings across seven provinces. The fee to enter is $300,000. By law, corporations and other organizations may not donate.
Mr. Décarie will have an uphill climb.
For her part, Ms. Douglas, who was herself purged from the military in 1989, found Mr. Décarie’s remarks “troubling,” but she chose to push them aside. Thursday was a day for celebration.
She believes the Richard Décaries of this world no longer speak for many Canadians. We’ll see if that includes the membership of the Conservative Party of Canada.