After previously suggesting he would consider apologizing and restoring benefits to veterans who were dishonourably discharged from the military for being gay, Defence Minister Peter MacKay appears to be backtracking.
In a letter from former military reserve policeman Robin Anderson-Forbes, MacKay was asked if discharged gay veterans would receive apologies and restitution. Four months later, MacKay replied and suggested that it’s impossible to retroactively change veteran’s records.
In his response, MacKay argued that military policies have always adhered to the Charter. Canada has allowed gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military since 1992.
MacKay also suggests that gay military personnel didn’t actually receive “dishonourable” discharges. Rather, he asserts that the majority of the discharges were under the heading of “not advantageously employable,” which implies that those members left the military for administrative reasons, and that their release certificates were annotated with the words “honourably released.”
MacKay further states that those released under a criminal conviction would have been assigned an “unsatisfactory conduct” category, and their release certificates would have been annotated with “service terminated.”
Anderson-Forbes isn’t buying any of it. “Call it what you will, ‘dismissal with disgrace’, ‘dishonourably discharged’, ‘service terminated’ — they all mean the same thing,” he says. “And in this instance we’re referring to people who were convicted of homosexuality or a homosexual act, punished and then dismissed from the Canadian Forces.”
MacKay’s answers are not satisfactory to those MPs pushing for gay veterans to be recognized.
“He skated around the issue, there’s no question about it,” says Peter Stoffer, the NDP MP who is championing the issue.
“For him to say that basically, rights are enshrined and all this other stuff — they weren’t enshrined back then. He fails to address the issue of what happened during World War II and Korea, and up to about 1983, men and women were removed from the military for one reason only — their sexual orientation.”
Stoffer reiterates that they’re simply asking for the individuals to be sought out in order for their dismissal records to be changed and to be offered any veterans benefits that may be afforded to them.
“That’s all we’re asking for,” Stoffer says. “We’re not talking millions of people here — we’re talking possibly maybe a thousand. I simply don’t know the figure. For him to not acknowledge that is really quite unconscionable — especially when they told us that they would do the research to find the individuals and then offer them that opportunity, but so far they’re just skating around the issue.”
Stoffer wonders if perhaps a discomfort with queer issues in the Conservative party is to blame.
Gay Liberal MP Rob Oliphant is the Liberal veteran’s affairs critic, and he too objects to MacKay’s lack of an answer.
“The question isn’t really being answered,” Oliphant says. “[MacKay] starts to get into terminology and talk about a variety of things, and he shapes it in the fact that he only mentions that the social and moral codes of Canada have changed — the Criminal Code also changed.”
Oliphant also criticizes MacKay for bringing the Charter into the answer when it was never brought up in the question.
“The Charter’s terrific — the Charter is what we base our civil society on, but this question is outside that. It is about simply looking at a wrong that was committed.”
Oliphant says that he is taking up the issue and is preparing to put a series of questions on the Order Paper in the House of Commons to get more details on just how many people this issue affects.
“I need more than just some anecdotes about a few people, so I am going to ask the bureaucracy to prepare answers to several questions on how many, when, who, what, where, when, why — that kind of stuff,” says Oliphant. “Then I can look at it. Otherwise, I’m going to look weak unless I can actually have some data that I’m working on. I will get that data, and then I can follow up, and that will take some time.”
Oliphant also notes that he has been in touch with Anderson-Forbes in order to discuss the matter further.