The Canadian government will pay up to 110 million Canadian dollars, or £65 million, to compensate victims of the so-called ‘gay purge’.
The ‘gay purge’ refers to the systematic government-authorised discrimination against members of the LGBT community, which took place in Canada over the course of decades.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the landmark announcement on Tuesday 28 November, following a speech in the House of Commons in Ottawa, during which he personally apologised to the victims.
The government also introduced legislation to overturn and erase ‘unjust convictions’ of people charged under archaic laws, which criminalised homosexuality from the judicial records completely.
In a speech to victims and their supporters, who’d gathered in the gallery of the House of Commons, Trudeau apologised for ‘Canada’s role in the systemic oppression, criminalisation and violence’ against sexual minorities.
The Liberal politician ushered in a time of healing as he said:
It is with shame and sorrow and deep regret for the things we have done that I stand here today and say: We were wrong.
It is my hope that in talking about these injustices, vowing to never repeat them and acting to right these wrongs, we can begin to heal.
The government led a 30-year campaign against the LGBT community which saw thousands of victims lose their jobs and face prosecution because of their sexual orientation.
In the 1950s, a special unit of Royal Canadian Mounted Police began removing gay and lesbian members of the military and other government institutions who were seen as vulnerable to blackmail by the Soviet Union, although there are no known cases of gay public employees passing information with any foreign power.
To identify targets, the authorities conducted surveillance, made threats and even developed a so-called ‘fruit machine’ built in order to detect homosexuality.
The New York Times reports at least 9,000 people were under investigation by the unit at any one time, according to some estimates.
Although Canada partially decriminalised homosexual acts in 1969, the program continued until 1992. Trudeau’s reparations have been hailed as a globally-recognised landmark move towards equality.
The settlement, which totals 145 million Canadian dollars, will allow surviving victims who faced government retaliation, between 1962 and 1996, to claim compensation, Douglas Elliott, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit explained.
They’ll also be eligible for financial compensation ranging up to 150,000 Canadian dollars for those who experienced severe psychological and physical harm.
Because many victims have since died, 15 million Canadian dollars has been allocated for reconciliation and memorial measures in their honour, which will include the construction of a national monument in Ottawa and educational programs on the history of discrimination against gay and transgender people.
The decision takes on particular poignancy in the aftermath of events in America which saw President Donald Trump and his administration call for trans people to be banned from serving their country in the military.
However, a federal judge on Monday ruled the government must allow transgender people to enlist in the military beginning on Jan. 1, 2018.
Good news all round – and about time too from Canada and America.