Mr. Speaker, New Democrats welcome and support today's apology. We join the government in acknowledging the harm that was done to the entire LGBTQ community, but especially the severe impacts that prejudice, discrimination, and persecution have had on individuals. We also want to honour today those many activists who resisted these campaigns and fought back against social prejudice. Today is the vindication of your struggles.
It is high time that we recognized that the careers and lives of thousands of Canadians were ruined, not only through the endemic discrimination, homophobia, and transphobia of the past, but also by government policies and campaigns to single out members of the LGBTQ community for persecution.
It could take several forms. There were countless criminal prosecutions for consensual same-sex activity. Special units were created in the Canadian Forces to ferret out gay and lesbian members and to drive them out of the Forces, either by forcing them to resign, by offering an honourable discharge for their co-operation, or by imposing various forms of less-than-honourable mentions on those who were hounded out.
There was even a secret committee of senior public servants and RCMP officers in Ottawa who sometimes met weekly to conduct a campaign of dismissals from the public service and the RCMP.
Despite the fact that consensual same-sex activity had been legalized in 1969, with the support of both the Liberals and the NDP, these government activities targeting the LGBTQ community continued well into the nineties. Anyone who doubts the relentlessness of these campaigns has only to read Gary Kinsman's book, The Canadian War on Queers, for the proof that these campaigns had devastating consequences: careers cut short, and family and social lives ruined because of the impact of being outed as a result of a firing or an arrest.
As time went on, members of the LGBTQ community began to resist. Long-serving New Democratic member of Parliament Svend Robinson worked tirelessly for change as the first, and for many years only, openly gay member of Parliament in the House of Commons. Among all the issues he tackled, perhaps most significant was his success in having sexual orientation added to the hate crimes section of the Criminal Code with a private member's bill that became law in 2004.
Let us also remember that James Egan and John Nesbit fought in the courts for recognition of equal spousal pension rights, and won, when sexual orientation was added to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a prohibited ground for discrimination by the Supreme Court in 1995.
Some 25 years ago this October, a very brave member of the Canadian Forces, Michelle Douglas, challenged her dismissal from the forces in court and won a judgment outlawing dismissal from the Canadian Forces on the basis of sexual orientation.
This apology, nearly 25 years after the end of the discharges from the military and the firings from the public service, and 50 years after the legalization of same-sex activity, comes none too soon for those who were its victims.
Simply the idea of an apology has been on the agenda for a very long time. Long-time NDP member Libby Davies, the first openly lesbian woman in this House, tabled a motion over three years ago calling for a meaningful apology for those fired from the public service.
Today we should also acknowledge the work of those who helped make this apology possible, especially the advisory council that worked with the government to get this apology before us today and the activists from We Demand an Apology Network and Egale's Just Society Committee, which not only made the case for justice but kept up the pressure on the government to act.
Most of all we should thank those survivors of the anti-LGBTQ campaigns who have come forward to tell their heart-wrenching stories yet one more time.
Apologies are in themselves a form of justice. The New Democrats are pleased that the apology was delivered today by the Prime Minister and inserted into the House of Commons record. The New Democrats were afraid that today there would be only an apology, without any mention of restitution. We were pleased to see movement on the part of the government in recent days to include measures that begin to deal with the substance of the harms for which the apology was given.
The New Democrats are committing today to work with the government to ensure that this legislation is passed quickly by the House and that it is exhaustive. We are also committing to continue working with the LGBTQ community to ensure that the legislative changes will become a daily reality, since there is still too much work to be done in terms of justice for the LGBTQ community.
We hope that today will mark a true change of gears for the government on LGBTQ issues, and that it will bring about a renewed climate of co-operation on these issues in Parliament.
New Democrats are also pleased to hear that the government has reached an agreement in principle with the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit against the government. The lawsuit sought restitution for specific harms to individuals resulting from the government's campaign of firings from the public service, the RCMP, and the Canadian Forces. While the damage suffered was never limited to just financial losses, just compensation is an important part of any effort toward restorative justice.
There is still much to do to change government policies and practices so they honour the new legislated right to be free from discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression. Let us get to work, starting today, with transgender and gender variant Canadians on implementing Bill C-16.
When it comes to ending the legal discrimination against the LGBTQ community, there is no question as to what needs to be done.
We are pleased today to see the introduction of a bill to expunge the criminal records of gay men who engaged in consensual sexual activity with same sex partners. However, it is not as though we do not know what such a bill might look like.
Philip Toone, an NDP MP from Quebec during the last Parliament, introduced such measures in 2014 under private member's business. Similar measures were introduced that same day by way of apology by the Australian government in Queensland, by New Zealand, and by Scotland.
Measures to counter this injustice should have been in place decades ago. We must not forget that this bill is not only symbolic. Every day, gay men with unjust criminal records are prevented from travelling or volunteering, and face discrimination when it comes to employment.
We hope to see authorization to proceed in addressing the cases of those kicked out of the Canadian Forces with something less than fully honourable discharges. After all, more than a year ago, the national defence committee unanimously approved a motion from the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke calling on the Minister of Defence to authorize the military ombudsman to begin revising the service records of those who were driven out of the Canadian Forces based on who they loved. We understand that aspects of dismissals from the forces will be covered in the settlement of the class action law suit, but the revision of service records still needs to happen.
The NDP welcomes the government's promise to move forward with removing section 159 from the Criminal Code, a section under which the age of consent for anal intercourse is different than it is for heterosexual relations.
Although the government introduced a bill to that effect, it has been held up at first reading stage for several months. A similar bill was already introduced in the House in the last Parliament, in 2014, by former NDP MP Craig Scott.
There is, of course, one sense in which this apology risks ringing hollow. That will be if this Parliament fails to act expeditiously to end discriminatory laws and policies that continue to penalize and stigmatize the LGBTQ community. As some have said, this would be a good time to stop doing things the government might have to apologize for in the future.
The discriminatory gay blood ban remains in place, despite the fact that almost every health professional agrees that there is no science behind the ban. This is a policy that not only stigmatizes gay men but continues to restrict the supply of blood and organs at a time when the need is so great.
Members of the LGBTQ community have waited decades for our government to acknowledge the systemic nature of the injustices perpetrated against their community.
Therefore, today is an important day marked by an apology presented on behalf of all Canadians and the government's commitment to make amends.
What we have acknowledged today is that the injustices perpetrated against, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Canadians by the government were both egregious and systemic.
New Democrats hope that today will mark more than simply turning the page on this regrettable part of our history. Instead, this apology should be the springboard for action both here in Parliament and in Canadian society. We must begin by removing the last vestiges of institutional discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex, and transgender Canadians. We must also eradicate the prejudice that lives in our communities and affects our siblings, children, parents, friends, and neighbours.
From Svend Robinson to Libby Davies to the members for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke and Saskatoon West, and so many more, the NDP consistently stood with the LGBTQ community and followed its lead on these vital civil rights issues. It is our hope that all Canadians take today as an opportunity to move forward and continue to build the inclusive, accepting country that we all know we can be.