After mounting pressure from advocates, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has appointed a gay Liberal member of Parliament as “Special Advisor on LGBTQ2 issues,” and set a three-year timeline to respond to calls for apologies and compensation for discriminatory federal policies.
Randy Boissonnault, MP for Edmonton Centre, has been tasked “to advance and protect the rights of the community and address historical injustices that we have endured,” he told reporters at a Nov 15 press conference.
“We’re only getting started. We know that there’s a lot of work ahead of us.”
The government announced Boissonnault’s role alongside its intention to repeal a law that criminalizes anal sex. Section 159 of the Criminal Code forbids anal intercourse “in a public place or if more than two persons take part or are present,” and puts the age of consent for anal sex two years higher than the general consent age of 16.
Tabled Nov 15, 2016, Bill C-32 will move anal sex under Canada’s general consent laws. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould told reporters it was part of a move to “extract some of those zombie provisions” from the Criminal Code, which courts have deemed unconstitutional.
Behind the podium stood 20 queer activists. Earlier that morning, they spent an hour with Boissonnault, discussing his new role. They were told that within three years, the government will answer demands for apologies, record-clearing and compensation for people convicted and fired for homosexual activity.
Marni Panas, an Edmonton trans woman, had flown to Ottawa to see the ongoing debate around trans-rights Bill C-16. She says Boissonnault pledged to study everything, including compensation for those purged from the public service.
“We’re seeing some real, meaningful action. We’d like to see some real timelines on an apology, but a sincere one — it has to be heard and received, as well as given. This is our moment to experience that,” Panas says.
She echoed other activists in noting the move comes a week after Donald Trump was named US president-elect. “We need to be leaders in the world in saying, ‘listen, this is what we value as Canadians.’”
Gabriel Boisvert, executive assistant for the Conseil québécois LGBT, says the government is receptive to criticism that Boissonnault’s mandate left out any mention of intersex people. “I appreciate that the government wants to take the time to do it right, instead of doing something and having to correct it again and again.”
The government’s announcement came two weeks after lawyers filed two class-action lawsuits, seeking at least $600 million in compensation for LGBT Canadians pushed out of the military and public service. One suit was filed in Ontario, and the other in Quebec.
“I’m really looking forward to the day I can put this all behind me,” says Martine Roy, a plaintiff in the Quebec case.
Roy says she’s optimistic about Boissonault’s new role, even though Egale Canada published its extensive review of present and past federal discrimination five months ago. “You have to start somewhere. They’ve appointed someone, and someone who comes from the community to boot.”
Doug Elliott, who is leading the suit for all Canadians outside of Quebec, says his suit has been granted a case-management judge and is still proceeding “until the government does something about it.”
“They’ve had months to plan this, and frankly I would have thought that after all those months, there would have been a little more meat available today,” Elliott says. “I expected we’d be listening to them today with their proposals, and instead they were listening to us for our suggestions.”
MP Randall Garrison, the NDP critic on LGBT issues, says he expects the government to issue an apology soon. “It definitely should take less than a year, but it has to be followed by real actions that make a difference in our society,” he says. “There’s a lot of unfinished business.”
The government has not responded to documents obtained by Daily Xtra suggesting the government has delayed a process to clear old convictions and does not intend to offer compensation.