Ot­tawa set to an­nounce coun­cil for apol­ogy to LGBT Cana­di­ans

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - NEWS - JOHN IBBITSON

There needs to be a broad-rang­ing and com­pre­hen­sive apol­ogy. Gary Kins­man

Pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at Lau­ren­tian Uni­ver­sity, LGBT ac­tivist

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 and a vet­eran LGBT ac­tivist, said he has been asked to ap­pear be­fore the new coun­cil next week to of­fer his per­spec­tives.

“There needs to be a broad­rang­ing 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.”

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.

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.”

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