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Canada to erase past convictions for consensual gay sex

Bill to expunge ‘historically unjust convictions’ introduced on the same day as LGBT apology

Canada’s Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale addresses reporters after the government’s historic apology on Nov 28, 2017. Credit: Nick Lachance/Xtra

The Trudeau government has introduced legislation to expunge the criminal records of people who were convicted for having consensual gay sex.

The legislation was introduced on Nov 28, 2017, the same day that the prime minister issued his historic apology to LGBT people, and is part of the government’s efforts to redress those wrongs.

If passed, the legislation would create a process that allows Canadians who were convicted for a number of offences involving consensual sex to have their records expunged.

“This means that the records of convictions involving consensual sexual activity between same-sex partners — activity that would be lawful if it occurred today — can be permanently destroyed,” said Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale, who introduced the legislation. “This new process will allow these convictions to be fully removed from federal databases.”

Family and partners of people who are dead would also be able to apply to have their loved one’s record expunged posthumously. The process would be free.

The government plans to set aside $4 million over the next two years to aid with the process.

The legislation would cover anyone convicted of having sex with someone of the same sex as long as it was consensual and both were 16 years or older. That’s despite the fact that it is still illegal for any Canadian younger than 18 to engage in anal sex.

However, convictions under the bawdy house laws, which were used as the basis for police raiding bathhouses, won’t be covered.

“The most significant mass arrests of gay men that have existed in Canadian history are not going to be even covered by the expungement of Criminal Code legislation,” says Gary Kinsman, the co-author of The Canadian War on Queers and a spokesperson for the We Demand an Apology Network. “That’s a very significant problem.”

While the majority of people who were charged in the aftermath of the 1981 Toronto bathhouse raids, the largest example of such an action, weren’t convicted, there were many other raids, such as the 1977 raids in Montreal, which resulted in many convictions, Kinsman says.