Mr. Speaker, as a gay man, I take particular pride in standing in the House today to speak to Bill C-66. For me, the bill is an important and necessary part of the apology delivered by the Prime Minister in the House just a week ago. In that apology, the Prime Minister acknowledged that governments in Canada had run campaigns of humiliation, intimidation, firings, and persecution of fellow Canadians on the basis of their sexual orientation. This ranged from interrogations; to pressure to inform on colleagues, to firings from the public service, the foreign service, the RCMP, and the Canadian Forces; and to campaigns by police targeting gay men for consensual same-sex activity, all of this despite the fact that most forms of same-sex activity were legalized in 1969.
As a gay man of a certain age, I also take a personal interest in the expungement legislation. It was probably more a matter of luck than anything else that I was not caught in the nets cast to capture gay men in public places, like the 146 men arrested in raids on two gay bars in Montreal in 1977, places and a year in Montreal which I am familiar. More than 300 were arrested in raids on four bath houses in Toronto in 1981.
What is important about these two events is that both of them sparked public demonstrations for the first time against these campaigns of arrests. More than 2,000 turned out in Montreal and more than 3,000 turned out in Toronto. These demonstrations marked the beginning of the organized resistance of the LGBTQ community against these campaigns of oppression, resistance which has ultimately led to this legislation being before the House today.
Correcting some of the injustices resulting from these campaigns is indeed the purpose of Bill C-66, as those subject to these campaigns suffered real consequences. However, some of these consequences can never be reversed, especially as many of the resulting charges led to public humiliation when the names of those arrested were released for publication in the media, this at a time when being out was not really a thing and was far from being socially acceptable. Those who were convicted found themselves with severe limitations on their ability to retain jobs or to find new jobs if they were fired, as discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was only outlawed in most jurisdictions in the 1990s, with the notable exception of Quebec, where it took place in 1977, and Manitoba in 1986.
A settlement of the class action law suit launched by those who were fired from their federal jobs, and on which agreement in principle was reached only days before the apology, will provide some monetary compensation to those still living who lost jobs. However, there are other consequences of convictions resulting from these campaigns against consensual same-sex activity that continue to this day.
Those with criminal records remain prohibited from volunteering with vulnerable people, whether that would be serving as a role model for LGBTQ2 youth, as foster parents, or volunteering to serve seniors with dementia. Of course, criminal records often result in severe restrictions on the ability to travel abroad.
While I am glad to see the legislation being dealt with expeditiously in the House, I have to remind my colleagues that many in my community have waited decades for this moment to come. Many never thought we would see this day and many, in fact, did not live to see this day, some simply because it has taken too long and some because having their lives and careers ruined as a result of those campaigns led them to take their own lives.
In 1992, NDP MP Svend Robinson raised the question of the gay purges with Conservative Prime Minister Mulroney, and he responded that “if” these campaigns had occurred, they would have constituted human rights violations and should have been investigated. However, 25 years ago nothing came of this.
Activists within the LGBTQ community first made formal demands for an apology in 1998, nearly a decade ago, but the Liberal government of the day did not respond. In 2014, long-time NDP member of Parliament and first out lesbian in the House, Libby Davies, introduced a motion calling for an apology. Also in 2014, NDP MP Philip Toone introduced a bill to get rid of these unjust criminal records.
When we look at how the LGBTQ2 community has pursued an apology and expungement of criminal records for 25 years, the words fast and expeditiously need to be used sparingly when it comes to Parliament acknowledging the unjust treatment of the community and responding appropriately.
Nevertheless, I take the apology very seriously. I hope it will be a springboard for action, not just to redress previous wrongs but to launch efforts to remove ongoing discrimination against my community, including ending the gay blood ban, fully implementing Bill C-16 to bring about equal treatment for transgender and gender variant Canadians, and ensuring the concerns of two-spirited Canadians are addressed whenever reconciliation is on the table.
At this point, I should restate the NDP position on the bill, and that is that the bill should go forward quickly, as there are ways within the bill itself to deal with the concerns that have been raised since it was tabled.
It is unfortunate that the community and the many researchers and activists who have been working on this issue were not consulted in the drafting. those like Gary Kinsman and Patrizia Gentile, who we can actually say wrote the book on this, when they published their book The Canadian War on Queers in 2010. For some reason, the Liberal government was determined to keep consultations on redress separate and apart from consultations on the apology itself.
Turning to the contents of Bill C-66, there is of course one big omission in the bill. It excludes bawdy house offences from the list of offences for which one can apply for expungement, never mind that raids on gay bars and bath houses were key parts of the campaign of persecution against gay men. It is a curious omission from the list for which one can seek expungement when the Prime Minister himself clearly labelled use of bawdy house provisions against the LGBTQ2 community as discriminatory, and specifically included both bathhouse raids and entrapment by the police in his apology. Therefore, it seems wrong that the list of offences in the bill is narrower than the apology delivered by the Prime Minister.
One might ask why am I arguing this bill ought to go forward with this gap in it. Clause 23 of the bill allows cabinet to add offences to the schedule by order in council. I trust the Liberal government will consider these issues that have been raised and discussed here today and will fully implement the apology after the bill passes by adding bawdy house offences to the schedule. The New Democrats will be here to remind the Liberals if they should forget or dawdle.
Some have expressed a concern that offences added later would have lesser status and could easily be removed by a future government. Let me point to the testimony by officials in the public safety committee Monday, reassuring us that once offences were in the schedule it would require legislative action to remove them.
On the question of ensuring there are no obstacles to LGBTQ2 citizens being able to use the expungement process, again we heard reassurance from the public safety, justice, and Parole Board officials. First and foremost was the confirmation that we had again here today, that there would be no fee to apply for expungement. Second, there was assurance from the Parole Board that the application process would remain “simplified” and that staff would be made available to help citizens file their applications so they would not be required to retain legal counsel to do so.
Another concern is the question of what would constitute proof of consent for offences, which are often quite old and are convictions for offences for which the question of consent was not germane to the conviction. The bill says that it has to have been consensual sex. Again, officials assured the public safety committee that dealing with this question was the purpose of proposed section 7(3), allowing sworn statements where records, and therefore evidence on the question of consent, are not available. Further, the government's charter statement on Bill C-66, which was tabled yesterday, very clearly says the following, “Pursuant to sections 12 and 13, the Board must expunge if there is no evidence that the applicable criteria are not satisfied...”
With regard to the age of consent provisions, officials again pointed out that the laddering provisions in effect at the time of the conviction allowing exemptions for those close in age would still apply to the expungement.
I stand here today as a proud member of the LGBTQ2 community and a proud member of a House of Commons, which has acknowledged the historical campaigns of persecution against my community, apologized for those injustices, and with this bill, has begun the process of redress that will complete the apology.
My community waited decades for this acknowledgement and apology, so I am glad we have moved quickly on the bill, even if we were very late at getting to the starting line.
Let me stress once again my hope and the hope of my community that the apology will mark a turning point and a springboard not just for action to address the historical injustices, but a springboard for action to remove ongoing discrimination.
Members of the LGBTQ2 community who were the subject of campaigns of persecution should not have to wait longer to see the formal part of these injustices undone. We have come a long way, but there is still more work to do.