Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made history today by apologizing to the LGBTQ victims of government discrimination.
The discriminatory practices, which began in the 1940s, saw Canadian government employees and members of the military investigated, sanctioned, or even fired on the basis of their sexual orientation. Many victims of the so-called “gay purge” were even branded criminals, and some were left with criminal records.
“These aren’t distant practices of governments long forgotten,” Trudeau said, standing before Parliament. “This happened systematically, in Canada, with a timeline more recent than any of us would like to admit.”
“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.”
The Prime Minister’s apology immediately drew praise from local advocates, who agreed the apology was an important gesture.
Joe Wickenhauser, executive director of the Saskatchewan Pride Network, told paNOW the apology acknowledges the historical wrongs while also providing hope for the future.
“This apology, it’s a recognition that what happened to LGBT people – the systemic discrimination – wasn’t right,” he said. “I think it gives us hope as a community that we can do better and that we will do better in the future.”
Wickenhauser said having a federal government that’s openly concerned with LGBTQ rights is a huge step forward for the country. Trudeau has made unprecedented strides towards inclusion, he said, including appointing a special advisor on LGBTQ issues and becoming the first Prime Minister to march in a pride parade.
“It’s nice to see a government that’s saying ‘this is actually an important issue for us,’” Wickenhauser said. “These are important steps to realizing a society that’s truly inclusive.”
Prince Albert LGBTQ advocate Jennifer Brockman was glad to hear the apology. Brockman said she was grateful to all the work by LGBTQ advocates which made it possible.
“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s definitely a long time coming.”
Trudeau’s apology was largely a symbolic gesture, Brockman said, but it still carries significant weight, especially for those directly affected by the government purge. To hear the country’s leader stand up and apologize goes a long way towards healing, but Brockman said she is most curious to see what happens next.
The Trudeau government has already earmarked more than $110 million to compensate the LGBTQ victims of government discrimination, which will be paid out as part of a class-action lawsuit settlement. Details of who will receive compensation have still not been determined by the federal court, but several thousand are likely eligible.
The federal Liberal government has also introduced legislation to expunge the criminal records of those who were charged or convicted on the basis of their sexual orientations.
--with files from The Canadian Press
On Twitter: @TMacPhersonNews
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