opinion
2 min

Message to Trudeau: A pardon just isn’t enough

Canada won’t reconcile its homophobic past until it strikes all of its anti-gay laws

Justin Trudeau will be the first sitting prime minister to attend a Pride parade in Canada.

Credit: Pride Toronto

The latest news from Team Trudeau — that the government is planning to review and pardon all men whose lives were destroyed by convictions under Canada’s sodomy laws before those laws were loosened under Trudeau’s father in 1969 —  is undeniably good, even if it’s mostly symbolic.

According to the Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson, it was the Globe’s own questioning about the case of Everett Klippert — the last man jailed indefinitely as a sex offender for his homosexuality — that led Trudeau to announce the new policy.

Klippert spent 10 years behind bars, underwent two trials that caused national embarrassment and ultimately built support for the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1969 .

But for all the deserved praise we give Trudeau senior for his stance removing the  government from the “bedrooms of the nation,” his decriminalization bill didn’t actually erase the sodomy laws from our Criminal Code — it only carved a limited definition of what counted as legally permitted sodomy.

After 1969, to avoid the cops, homosexual men could only have sex if they were both over the age of 21 and in complete privacy — meaning only two partners, and no voyeurs. The age of consent for anal sex was later lowered to 18, but remains discriminatory compared to the general age of consent at 16.

The distinction was not trivial. Canada’s sodomy law and other related obscenity and prostitution laws were used to harass the LGBT community in the supposed post-decriminalization period. Despite aspects of the sodomy law being declared unconstitutional by courts in BC, Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and Nova Scotia, the sodomy law remains on the books and has been used to harass gay men as recently as 2006.

Pardoning Klippert and other men who found themselves in his situation resolves a particular historical injustice done to these men. But in absence of a full repeal of the offensive laws that continue to put gay men at risk across the country, the action is half-hearted at best.

When I spoke with Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould in December 2015, she said that a review of the discriminatory sodomy law “will be included in our overarching review of the Criminal Code,” but would not commit to repealing it altogether.

A few months ago, I predicted that Trudeau wouldn’t be able to accomplish much for the LGBT community before his planned march in Toronto Pride, given the shortened parliamentary schedule he’s inherited. It’s heartening to know that he’ll at least be able to point to some symbolic gestures accomplished before then. His government may even have tabled a new trans rights bill.

If a full Criminal Code review isn’t in the cards by June (and it probably shouldn’t be, given the amount of work needed to repair the shambles Harper’s succession of justice ministers left the Code in), then Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould should quickly come out and say that the discriminatory sodomy laws in the Criminal Code will be completely repealed in due time. They should also clearly articulate how obscenity and bawdy house laws, which have historically been used to persecute LGBT people, will be amended or repealed.

It’s evident that the Trudeau camp has developed a relationship with Pride Toronto (whose executive director, Mathieu Chantelois, is a one-time Liberal nomination hopeful). Just two weeks ago, Trudeau and Toronto Centre MP Bill Morneau staged a meeting and photo op with Chantelois that made the rounds on social media.

Chantelois said on Facebook that the pair were “eager to talk about trans rights, equal rights, immigration and gay men donating blood.” All well and good, but unless and until Team Trudeau backs up this behind-closed-doors talk with loud, public action, the love-in between Pride and Trudeau seems a little too much like it’s serving the wrong end of the relationship.