Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today on behalf of the NDP to support Bill C-66 and its quick passage into law.
For me, as a member of the LGBTQ2 community, the government's apology last week was a long awaited historic moment that paved the way for a more just and more inclusive Canada for everyone. I feel like I am walking on a path walked by so many brave and tireless activists throughout the last 50 years. I also want to acknowledge the important work of former New Democrat MPs such as Svend Robinson, Libby Davies, Bill Siksay, and Craig Scott, who paved the way for gay and lesbian Canadians in this House.
I would like to pay particular tribute to the work of my colleague, the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, whose tireless efforts resulted in transgender and gender non-binary Canadians finally receiving the same protections and rights as all other Canadians.
Last week's apology from the Prime Minister on behalf of the Government of Canada was a very emotional day for many Canadians, as well as for me. Even as we celebrated the moment and looked forward to the righting of past injustices, the day also inevitably revived some darker memories of what Canadians have suffered.
In 1965, Everett Klippert, from Saskatchewan, became the last Canadian to be in jail because he was gay. He was declared a dangerous sexual offender and was sentenced to life in prison in 1966. The Supreme Court of Canada upheld his conviction until he was released in 1971, two years after then justice minister Pierre Trudeau's bill legalized consensual homosexual acts. Journalist John Ibbitson, who profiled Klippert, recently said in an interview:
He didn't see himself as a pioneer in the gay rights movement. He was just a guy who loved driving trucks and, as it turned out, loved men as well.
Everett was merely the last Canadian to have been imprisoned for who he loved.
There are countless Canadians whose lives have been shattered and altered immeasurably because they were persecuted for who they are. While the apology is welcomed and the right thing to do, there are many for whom it has come too late. It came too late for Everett Klippert.
Every change, every advancement in law, every protection of basic human rights enshrined in law and policy for members of the LGBTQ2 community has been achieved by dragging governments and public institutions kicking and screaming into doing the right thing. Let us hope that those days are over and that today is the day we commit, as Parliament, to end all state-sanctioned discrimination and to begin the long overdue restoration of justice for its victims. Let us hope that, indeed, as the headline for former NDP MP Svend Robinson's opinion piece in The Globe and Mail states, “For the countless Canadians humiliated by anti-gay policies, healing can finally begin”.
Thanks to activists and allies here in Canada, we have seen a gradual shift away from persecution and unjust punishment and a slow but unstoppable recognition of rights for LGBTQ2 people. I want to share a brief timeline.
In 1969, homosexuality ceased to be a crime in Canada, but it still took two more years before Everett Klippert was released from jail.
In 1975, Doug Wilson, a graduate student in the College of Education at the University of Saskatchewan, was refused by the dean of the College of Education to supervise practice teachers in the school system, because he was a gay activist. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission dismissed his case of discrimination.
In December 1977, Quebec included sexual orientation in its human rights code, making it the first province in Canada to pass a gay civil rights law. By 2001, all provinces and territories had taken this step forward.
In 1978, Canada's new immigration act removed homosexuals from the list of inadmissible classes.
In 1979, the Canadian Human Rights Commission recommended in its annual report that sexual orientation be added to the Canadian Human Rights Act. The following year, MP Pat Carney tabled Bill C-242, which would have prohibited discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. It did not pass. NDP MP Svend Robinson introduced similar bills in 1983, 1985, 1986, 1989, and 1991.
In 1991, Robinson tried to get the definition of spouse in the Income Tax Act and the Canada Pension Plan Act to include “or of the same sex”. In 1992, he tried to get the word “opposite sex” definition of spouse removed from Bill C-55, which would have added the definition to survivor benefit provisions in federal pension legislation. All the proposed bills were defeated.
In 1987, Don Cochrane, a professor of education at the University of Saskatchewan, organized the first Breaking the Silence conference to discuss gay and lesbian issues in the education system. The conference celebrated its 30th year this year, but that year, the organizers had to hire security to protect attendees from physical and verbal harassment and abuse from protesters.
In 1988, Svend Robinson became the first member of Parliament to come out. Robinson was first elected to the House of Commons in 1979, and in 2000, the B.C. riding of Burnaby Douglas, as it was called then, elected him for the eighth time.
In 1991, Delwin Vriend, a lab instructor at King's University College in Edmonton, Alberta, was fired from his job because he was gay. The Alberta Human Rights Commission refused to investigate the case, because the Alberta Individual's Rights Protection Act did not cover discrimination based on sexual orientation. Seven years later, after he was fired for being gay, the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and finally, on April 2, 1998, the high court unanimously ruled that the exclusion of homosexuals from Alberta's Individual's Rights Protection Act was a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Also that year, in my community, Gay & Lesbian Health Services of Saskatoon, now called OUTSaskatoon, opened its doors, thanks to the shear determination and tenacity of Gens Hellquist. GLHS was started to serve the underserved health, social, and emotional needs of gays and lesbians in Saskatchewan.
In August 1992, in Haig and Birch v. Canada, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the failure to include sexual orientation in the Canadian Human Rights Act was discriminatory. Federal justice minister Kim Campbell responded to the decision by announcing that the government would take the necessary steps to include sexual orientation in the Canadian Human Rights Act.
In November 1992, a landmark legal challenge was won by Michelle Douglas, who was fired from the military in 1989 for being a lesbian. The Federal Court finally lifted, in 1992, the country's ban on homosexuals in the military, and that year, for the first time, allowed gays and lesbians to serve with pride in the armed forces.
In May 1995, the Supreme Court ruled on the case involving Jim Egan and Jack Nesbit, two gay men who sued Ottawa for the right to claim the spousal pension under the Old Age Security Act. The court ruled against Egan and Nesbit. However, all nine judges agreed that sexual orientation was a protected ground.
In May 1995, an Ontario judge found that the Child and Family Services Act of Ontario infringed section 15 of the charter by not allowing same sex couples to bring joint application for adoption. Ontario became the first province to make it legal for same sex couples to adopt. British Columbia, Alberta, and Nova Scotia followed quickly after.
In 1996, the federal government finally passed Bill C-33 and added sexual orientation to the Canadian Human Rights Act.
In May 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that same sex couples should have the same benefits and obligations as opposite sex common-law couples and equal access to benefits from social programs to which they contribute.
In June of that year, although many laws would have to be revised to comply with the Supreme Court's ruling in May, Parliament voted 216 to 55 in favour of preserving the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
In February 2000, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's Liberals introduced Bill C-23, the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act, in response to the Supreme Court's main ruling. The act would give same sex couples who lived together for more than a year the same benefits and obligations as all common-law couples. On April 11, 2000, Parliament passed Bill C-23 with a vote of 174 to 72. The legislation gives same sex couples the same social and tax benefits as all couples.
In total, the bill affected over 68 federal statutes related to a wide range of issues: pension benefits, old age security, income tax deductions, bankruptcy protection, and the Criminal Code. Despite this, the definitions of marriage and spouse were left untouched.
On December 10, 2000, Reverend Brent Hawkes, of the Metropolitan Community Church in Toronto, read the first bans, an old Christian tradition of publishing or giving public notice of people's intent to marry, for two same-sex couples. Hawkes said that if the bans were read on three Sundays before the wedding, he could legally marry the couples. The two same-sex couples were married on January 14, 2001. The following day, the Ontario government reiterated the government's position, saying that the marriages would not be legally recognized.
The year 2000 was also the year that a Saskatoon Mount Royal high school teacher, Patti Rowley, attended a session at a school board convention by gay and lesbian health services. A year later, she started a gay-straight alliance in a high school in Saskatoon, at Mount Royal Collegiate. She has been facilitating a weekly meeting for students and teachers ever since, 22 years later.
In May 2002, then Ontario Supreme Court Justice Robert MacKinnon ruled that a gay student had the right to take his boyfriend to the prom. In July 2002, for the very first time, a Canadian court ruled in favour of recognizing same-sex marriages under the law. The Ontario superior court ruled that prohibiting gay couples from marrying was unconstitutional and violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In February 2003, MP Svend Robinson unveiled a private member's bill that would allow same-sex marriages. The federal government had already changed several laws to give same-sex couples the same benefits and obligations as heterosexual common-law couples. In June of that year, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld a lower court ruling to legally allow same-sex marriages. The judgment said “the existing common law definition of marriage violates the Couples' equality rights on the basis of sexual orientation..”.
In June 2003, the Ontario government announced that the province would finally obey the law and register same-sex marriages. Nearly two dozen couples applied for marriage licences in Ontario on the following day.
In August 2003, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien vowed not to let religious objections alter his stand on same-sex marriage. He said that members of Parliament would be allowed to vote freely on the bill when it was introduced into the House of Commons, after his retirement in 2004.
In December 2003, the Ontario court ruled that Ottawa had discriminated against same-sex couples by denying benefits to their partners who had died before 1998. The court ruled that benefits would be retroactive to April 17, 1985, when equality rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into effect.
In December 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the federal government could change the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. In February 2005, the federal government finally introduced the same-sex marriage bill in the House of Commons. The bill would give married same-sex partners the same legal protection as other married couples. In May of that year, a Canadian Forces sergeant and a warrant officer were married in the chapel at CFB Greenwood, Nova Scotia, in the military's very first gay wedding.
In June 2005, the controversial bill, Bill C-38, titled “Civil Marriage Act”, passed final reading in the House of Commons, sailing through with a vote of 158 to 133. On July 20, 2005, the bill became law, and Canada became the fourth country in the world, after the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain, to finally and officially recognize same-sex marriage.
We can see that the road to the apology has been strewn with obstacles, and the struggle and resistance have been real and unrelenting. Each battle has been fought multiple times in multiple jurisdictions.
While governments, parliaments, police services, and other institutions, which were created to protect people, continued to persecute and prosecute LGBTQ Canadians, brave and courageous souls made change, positive change, despite governments. They did that one person, one family, one community at a time, and they saved people's lives. While the apology sadly came too late for some of these brave people, it does represent a much brighter future for those who remain. The apology is the proper first step, and we applaud the government for taking it.
New Democrats have been unwavering in calling for a just apology, and we are pleased that the government has announced that it is including redress measures in the bill. An apology without any redress measures would have been just an apology, not a just apology. There are thousands of people with unjust historic convictions for consensual same-sex sexual activity still on the records, and these convictions continue to be a barrier for people when it comes to travel, volunteering, even to getting a job.
New Democrats have fought to make sure that expungement legislation was tabled at the same time as the apology, and we are committed to working together with all parliamentarians and government to get this legislation passed as soon as possible. By expunging the convictions for historic consensual same-sex activity, the government is ensuring that no unfairly applied discriminatory label or judgment can continue to have negative impacts on people's daily lives.
While Bill C-66 is not perfect, we believe that all of the issues in question are fixable without amending the bill and therefore should not cause delay in the passage of the bill. New Democrats would like to see the immediate implementation of a process for the expungement of criminal records for consensual same-sex sexual activity. Speedy follow-through on a redress measure is necessary to complete and validate the government apology.
Now that Bill C-66 is tabled, we want to also make sure that the government continues to make sure that Canadian Forces service records are revised, that it quickly moves on the tabled legislation to repeal section 159 of the Criminal Code, and, of course, that it finally ends the blood ban for men who have sex with men.
I would like to thank those who went before us, as well as everyone who continues to work toward a more inclusive and equal Canada. There remains, unfortunately, a lot still to do.
I chose to run to be a member of Parliament for Saskatoon West. My goal was to end homelessness. As we heard the parliamentary secretary mention, LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in homelessness in this country. It is estimated that between 25% and 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ2. These young people are more vulnerable or at a higher risk of homelessness because of homophobia and transphobia. LGBTQ youth leave home most often because of violence and abuse. Their home is not safe for them. They often choose to live, literally on the street because they face homophobia and transphobia in our shelter systems and in support services. Despite human rights legislation, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and legalizing same-sex marriage, homophobia and transphobia are still very much a part of daily life in Canada, in our language, in our behaviour, and in the policies and practices of many of our helping institutions.
In the timeline I shared today, I highlighted important Canadian firsts that took place in my home province of Saskatchewan. These are important milestones that have improved the lives of LGBTQ2 Canadians. I would like to end my remarks with one final first.
This fall, the first long-term LGBTQ2 youth home in Canada, Pride Home, was opened in my riding. The youth home is operated by the amazing organization OUTSaskatoon. In 2016, a survey by OUTSaskatoon found that 40% of the local LGBTQ2 youth had dealt with homelessness at some point in their short lives.
We all hope for the day that all LGBTQ2 youth, all youth, have a warm and supportive loving home, but, until then, thank goodness for organizations like OUTSaskatoon.