3 min


A man in New Brunswick says the RCMP asked acquaintances if he was gay and then did not hire him.

News flash: Joe McCarthy is dead. Really.

McCarthy gave his name to an era and a philosophy. He was the US senator who destroyed many lives during the 1950s in his relentless pursuit of alleged communists and other perceived security threats, including gay men. Aided and abetted by his evil henchman, closeted gay lawyer Roy Cohn, McCarthy was never one to let the facts get in the way of rooting out supposed enemies of the state.

Many innocent people needlessly had their lives ruined during the McCarthy era, sacrificed on the altar of national security. Of course, there were some gay men who were traitors, such as Englishman Guy Burgess. However, contrary to the popular mythology about why gay men might become traitors, Burgess did not succumb to blackmail over his “hidden” sexuality. Rather, he was politically sympathetic to communist ideals.

Canada was not immune to this Cold War paranoia. The McDonald Commission into RCMP wrongdoing confirmed in 1981 what had been believed for some time: The RCMP kept files on thousands of gay men and lesbians and on other Canadians on the supposed grounds of national security. They also systematically tried to root out all homosexuals from the civil service. One of the more bizarre aspects of this period was the use of the so-called Fruit Machine that was supposed to detect homosexuals.

In 1984, then-solicitor general Robert Kaplan announced that all RCMP files kept on persons solely because of their sexual orientation had been destroyed. Despite Kaplan’s announcement, the following year the RCMP insisted that homosexuality was inconsistent with employment in the Mounties, a policy that was allegedly stopped in 1988.

Recent reports – particularly surrounding a human rights case by a man in New Brunswick who says the RCMP asked acquaintances if he was gay and then did not hire him – have revealed that the RCMP may be continuing to enquire into the sexuality of people being considered for employment. The RCMP denies discrimination, but says that it may have issues around security. It appears that sexuality may still be relevant to security in the eyes of the Mounties.

For shame! The habit of looking under rocks for disloyal fags should have died an ignominious death years ago, just like the one suffered by McCarthy himself.

Gay men and lesbians are protected from discrimination under the federal human rights act and under the Charter Of Rights And Freedoms.

This situation brings to mind the Michelle Douglas case. Douglas was identified as a lesbian when she was seeking an intelligence job in the armed forces. There was no evidence she was ever disloyal, but she was pushed out. In the resulting lawsuit she obtained a declaration that the army’s policy of excluding gay men and lesbians was unconstitutional.

Every gay or lesbian person was at one time in the closet, and some still are in the closet. That does not mean that they are susceptible to blackmail, still less that they would betray their country to keep the closet door tightly closed. In fact, to my knowledge, there has never been a case of a Canadian convicted of espionage due to blackmail over his or her homosexuality. In contrast, there have been many cases of gay men and lesbians unfairly drummed out of government jobs just because of their gay or lesbian.

The closeted gay traitor is an old myth cultivated by Cohn and McCarthy. It is a continuation of homophobic policies and attitudes that have stained the reputation of the RCMP. Police practice should be based on facts, not myths. The current practice contributes to the social stigma that supports the existence of the social institution we call the closet. It is the closet, after all, that is at the heart of the problem.

The RCMP motto is “maintain the law,” not “maintain the stereotype.” We need all available police resources devoted to meeting the real threats to our country, not chasing after the echoes of Joe McCarthy’s drunken rants. We should all realize by now that the real closeted gay traitor during the Cold War was Roy Cohn.

When measuring loyalty to our country, sexual orientation is irrelevant.

Change the policy and stop the practice, now.