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Carleton University students seek fruit machine apology

Former head of psychology department involved in battery of tests used to determine homosexuality

Carleton University, where Frank Robert Wake, a former head of Carleton’s psychology department, was involved with the RCMP in developing the “fruit machine.” Credit: Jordan Schulz/Flickr

A group of Carleton University students continues to push for an apology for their school’s connection to a Cold War-era campaign to purge homosexuals from the public service.

Frank Robert Wake, a former head of Carleton’s psychology department, was involved with the RCMP in developing the “fruit machine,” according to Carleton student Farzana Bashar.

Patrizia Gentile, a Carleton professor who has written about Wake, describes the fruit machine as “a battery of psychological tests” that was created with the former Carleton professor’s help to “systematically purge queers from the federal government and the military.”

Bashar, along with Helen Zan and Skyler Gubbels, learned about the fruit machine in a Carleton law class. She says little information was available about Wake’s involvement in the project that led to hundreds of gay men and women being fired from government jobs.

Zan says it has been difficult to obtain information from Carleton about Wake’s research. “We harassed basically everyone in the department,” she says. “None of them, except for one retired professor, would even talk to us about it.”  

When Daily Xtra asked Carleton University about Wake and his work with the RCMP, Carleton media relations officer Chris Cline provided an official statement from the university.

“In the absence of Carleton documents confirming [Wake’s] engagement in this research, the university has filed an information request with the federal government to determine if there are documents to share,” the statement reads.  

On April 11, 2016, a message from Carleton president Roseann Runte was posted to the university website. It acknowledged that the university’s history includes discrimination towards indigenous peoples, the unequal treatment of women, and “prejudice against homosexual, gay, lesbian, bi- and trans-sexual persons.”

“If members of the Carleton University community in the past promoted any sort of prejudice, I sincerely regret this,” Runte’s statement reads.

The statement also says that Carleton “is not responsible for activities done outside the purview of the contracts of employment.”

Although Wake was on sabbatical when he began working on the fruit machine, Bashar says the project continued for seven years, meaning Wake may have been working on it while at Carleton.

“Because this was such a huge psychology project, and [Wake] was the head of psychology, you can say there was a huge chance that other people, especially within Carleton, the psychology department, knew about him,” Zan says.

Runte’s statement did not reference the fruit machine directly, and did not apologize for specific events in the university’s history.

There is no evidence Carleton was involved in funding Wake’s research, Gentile notes. “The outrage is that this is obviously unethical research that took place,” she says.

Although the university has reviewed Gentile’s writing on Wake, there is no information about the fruit machine in Carleton internal documents, according to Cline’s statement.

Along with an apology and a monument for people who were affected by the fruit machine, Zan says they are also demanding a change in Carleton’s curriculum to include sensitivity training for professors, and a scholarship in the psychology department for queer students.

“It’s more than just the monument and an apology,” Bashar says. “We want there to be actual change for the queer community.”

“The kind of passion and interest and commitment that these students are displaying is really something we should be proud of,” Gentile says. “Acknowledging and documenting the past is always a difficult thing to do.”