Canadian PM Justin Trudeau Issues Historic Apology To Victims Of Anti-Gay Discrimination

"What resulted was nothing short of a witch hunt."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally apologized today to Canadians convicted under the country’s “gross indecency” law, as well as those fired from the military, police and civil service because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“This is the devastating story of people who were branded criminals by the government—people who lost their livelihoods, and in some cases, their lives,” Trudeau said in the House of Commons during question time. “These aren’t distant practices of governments long forgotten. This happened systematically, in Canada, with a timeline more recent than any of us would like to admit.”

Earlier in the day, the government announced legislation to expunge the historical convictions of those found guilty of same-sex offenses.

“The number one job of any government is to keep its citizens safe. And on this, we have failed LGBTQ2 people, time and time again,” Trudeau added. “It is with shame and sorrow and deep regret for the things we have done that I stand here today and say: We were wrong. We apologize. I am sorry. We are sorry.”

Canada decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in 1969, but persecution continued in civil service and the military well into the 1980s. Trudeau called the policy “prejudiced and flawed.”

ALICE CHICHE/AFP/Getty Images

“Sadly, what resulted was nothing short of a witch hunt. Those arrested and charged were purposefully and vindictively shamed. Their names appeared in newspapers in order to humiliate them, and their families. Lives were destroyed. And tragically, lives were lost.”

As part of a settlement, the government will spend $145 million Canadian ($113 million U.S.) to compensate victims of anti-LGBT discrimination. Some 3,000 people are believed to be eligible to make a claim, though funds will also go toward creating a memorial for victims and for LGBT education programs across the country.

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Trudeau has made inclusivity part of his platform from the start, establishing a cabinet that is 50% female and walking in Toronto Pride (the first sitting prime minister to do so). Last week, he also apologized to Indigenous Canadians who were forced into residential schools through the 20th century to assimilate into the dominant (white and Christian) Canadian culture.

Several Western countries have apologized for criminalizing consensual homosexuality—and pardoned those convicted—including Germany, Scotland, New Zealand and England, where the story of WWII codebreaker Alan Turing helped fuel efforts.

The U.S. has yet to follow suit but, in January, then-Secretary of State John Kerry formally apologized to State Department staff fired for suspected homosexuality during the 1950s and 1960s.

“As far back as the 1940s, but continuing for decades, the Department of State was among many public and private employers that discriminated against employees and job applicants on the basis of perceived sexual orientation, forcing some employees to resign or refusing to hire certain applicants in the first place,” Kerry said. “These actions were wrong then, just as they would be wrong today.”

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