Though given the nickname from a simple slot machine, the Canadian fruit machine was anything but benign. It was a top secret system of persecution and oppression of queer Canadians, spurred by homophobia . It involved the calculated and systemic demotion and firing of queers in the civil service by the RCMP.
During the 1940s, there was a massive scandal in the British Parliament. The government had discovered that a handful of its most powerful officials were actually undercover communist informants. Known as the Cambridge Five, the incident shook the empire and commonwealth colonies alike. When government officials found out that one of the spies was gay, they began to link all forms of queerness with communism, disloyalty and subversive behavior.
McCarthyism was on the rise with the Cold War in the 1950s. The Canadian government began a top-secret operation to remove all queers from any aspect of the government. Throughout the Cold war and for the next four decades members of the Secretary of the Privy Council and civil servants would report to the Prime Minister’s Office and the RCMP about their homophobic campaign.
The RCMP spared no lengths to out “suspects”. They set up complex scenarios to entrap their victims, stalked them and interrogated them at length. The RCMP compiled detailed files for all of their victims with many personal details. They classified workers into three categories: suspected, alleged and confirmed homosexual.
Approximately nine thousand people were demoted or fired all together, though they were never told that it was for being queer. Victims never faced charges even when homosexuality was still criminalized. They were simply fired or denied security clearances required for a promotion.
The fruit machine was not only the systemic targeting of queers in the civil service, but also an actual contraption. It looked like a dentist chair, with cameras and sensor attached along with a black box that displayed images at eye level for the victim.
Participants would volunteer to have their stress levels checked, when the machine was really an attempt to tell if a person was queer. Images shown to the participant would include erotic photos of men and women with other meaningless visuals. If she/he showed any sign of supposed arousal during a photo of someone of the same sex, they were added to the watch list.
The Canadian government pulled the funding on the fruit machine in the 1960s, but that didn’t stop the RCMP from constructing more invasive tests on unsuspecting participants. They continued with their “stress tests” which began to include plethysmographs (highly suspect devices that attach to genitals to gauge arousal). Even after Trudeau decriminalized queer sex, the fruit machine kept secret tabs on Canadians in the civil service up until the 1990s.
Many victims of the fruit machine were also reported as enemies of the state by the RCMP. This list also included activists, indigenous groups and others who spoke out against the government who were all persecuted under the scape goat of communism.