Demanding an apology and redress for Canada's anti-LGBTQ purge campaigns

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On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh interviews Lynne Gouliquer, Carmen Poulin, and Gary Kinsman. They are all members of the We Demand An Apology Network, which since 2015 has been putting pressure on the federal government to formally apologize and provide redress for the purge campaigns that targeted LGBTQ people in the public service and military in Canada over several decades, ruining thousands of careers and lives.

Lynne Gouliquer is a military veteran and an assistant professor at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. Carmen Poulin is an associate dean in the faculty of arts at the University of New Brunswick, and also Gouliquer's partner. And Gary Kinsman is a radical queer and anti-capitalist activist and a retired professor of sociology. All three have done research in specific areas related to the purge campaigns and to LGBTQ experiences in the public service and military.

In this era when state recognition of same-sex marriage feels ordinary and old hat, and when there is a dashing young prime minister who'll march in any Pride parade that'll have him, it can be easy to forget that it was not long ago at all that the Canadian state took a very different stance towards desire and relationships enacted between people of the same gender.

For decades, gay men, lesbians, and other queer people in the federal public service and in the Canadian Armed Forces were at risk of being fired if their sexual orientations became known. More than that, the Canadian state invested extensive resources in sustained campaigns of targeted surveillance, interrogation, and harassment in order to identify lesbians and gay men and purge them from the public service and military.

The rationale, particularly after this campaign was authorized by a directive from the security panel under the federal cabinet in 1958, was that people who engaged in same-sex relationships suffered from a so-called "character weakness" that would open them up to blackmail by agents of foreign powers. These purge campaigns lasted into the 1980s in the public service, and into the early 1990s in the military. Over the course of extensive research on these campaigns, no evidence has ever been found in the Canadian context of foreign agents getting access to state secrets by blackmailing LGBTQ people. Lots of evidence was found, however, of the RCMP and Canadian military intelligence attempting to blackmail them in order to get them to inform on their colleagues, friends, and partners.

In the decades that these vicious purge campaigns were in place, thousands of women and men lost their jobs and had their careers taken from them. Some were outed to their families and communities. Many had their lives utterly ruined. More than a few ended up committing suicide. And in addition to the trauma they inflicted on individuals, Kinsman argues that these purge campaigns by the Canadian state were one way in which LGBTQ people were expelled from the fabric of the nation – that is, materially constituted as not properly belonging – and they were also one way in which the relations of the closet, or of the double life, were socially organized.

'We Demand An Apology' is an organization comprised primarily of people who were targets of the purge campaign, as well as people (like the three interview participants) who have done related research and also other supporters. The foundation of its work, and of its ability to put pressure on governments, is the way it has brought together people who have been directly affected to talk about their experiences and collectively take action.

The Network started out by supporting a number of (ultimately unsuccessful) motions put forward by the NDP during the tail end of Stephen Harper's Conservative government. And more recently, they have focused on putting pressure on Justin Trudeau's Liberals – through media work, meeting with MPs, and public events. As well, this year they have been meeting with Pride committees across the country and building support for the idea that Liberal Party use of Pride celebrations as photo opportunities should be made contingent on finding a just resolution to the legacy of the anti-LGBTQ purge campaigns in Canada.

For the network, a just resolution has several components: They are demanding a full, public, official state apology. They are demanding redress in the form of financial compensation. And they are demanding the expungement of civilian and military criminal records for consensual sex between people of the same gender that came about because of the purge campaigns.

As things stand now, the Liberal government has agreed to issue some kind of apology by the end of the year. It is unclear whether that apology will go far enough, and it is also unclear whether the government intends to address the other demands of the network. For the moment, the network is waiting, ready to respond when the Liberals make their move. If necessary, they will keep up the pressure until all of their demands are met. And regardless, they are committed to ensuring that this shameful piece of Canadian history is remembered, talked about, and never, ever repeated.

Image: Modified from an original that is free for use under the CC0 Creative Commons license.


Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

Talking Radical Radio has been nominated for a Hamilton Independent Media Award. If you like the show, please vote for Scott Neigh under the category of "Best Journalist – Social Justice and Human Rights" before November 8!

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