Opinion
2 min

Trudeau’s gonna apologize to LGBT Canadians. Now what?

Even if the Liberals accomplish everything Egale has asked for, there’s still work to do

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Toronto’s Pride parade in 2016. Credit: Nick Lachance/Daily Xtra

The fanfare surrounding this month’s Globe and Mail scoop that Prime Minister Trudeau would be issuing an apology to all queer people who faced official persecution in the past featured all the hallmarks of the Trudeau “govern-by-photo-op” style.

Breathless headlines about the historic nature of the forthcoming-but-still-not-officially-announced apology were published around the world. The usual faces offered up their praise at Trudeau’s munificence. A list of other reforms and actions that the government would take was published by The Globe, also with no dates or deadlines, promising even more opportunities for warm fuzzies in the international press.

The fact that none of these things have happened yet is barely relevant — a mere tangent to the story of Justin Trudeau, our loveable, nice guy PM.

In a few weeks — maybe months — the official date for the apology will be announced, and the enthusiastic headlines will make the rounds again. We’ll do it once more when the apology actually happens, and most of the press will forget about the list of specific actions and remedies that the government promised but will not yet have happened.

Those wonkier reforms will be harder to generate global enthusiasm for, but I’m sure Trudeau’s communications team will try. That is, if the government actually follows through. We’ve already seen the Trudeau government renege on one of its major election promises to the LGBT community, to virtually no attention from the mainstream media. Will any of the national media’s talking heads fault the dreamy nice guy if he doesn’t follow through on some relatively obscure legislative reforms that an unnamed source leaked to The Globe?

Notably, the specific list of reforms mentioned in The Globe’s story only include the least controversial of the demands made by Egale in its Just Society report, even though the report says  that “the Liberals have decided to act on most or all of the recommendations.” There’s little controversy around issuing an apology, or equalizing the age of consent, but I suspect Egale’s demands to repeal laws criminalizing sex work and restricting prosecution for HIV non-disclosure would ruffle many more feathers.

Look, I understand that the machinery of legislation moves slowly — and usually with good reason. But Trudeau has been in office long enough to gestate a human baby, and we’ve yet to even see a plan to address these issues, let alone a timeline.

If an apology is indeed forthcoming, Egale should reject it until Trudeau establishes a timeline for the key legislative reforms it has demanded:

  • Repealing the sodomy law

  • Repealing the sex work and bawdy house laws

  • Restricting the definitions of obscenity and indecency in the criminal code so they are not unfairly targeted at LGBT people

These are all within the federal government’s power, and should be pursued immediately by a government that fancies itself the party of the Charter.

And if Trudeau thinks repealing the prostitution law is too controversial to jump on immediately, remind him of what he told Tom Mulcair in the debate last summer: “My number is nine” also applies to the number of Supreme Court justices who ruled that our sex work laws are unconstitutional.

Beyond that, Egale has requested reforms that will require cooperation with the provinces to fully implement, such as prosecutorial guidelines and police human rights training.

But even all of this will not bring LGBT people to full equality in Canada. Egale’s report focuses solely on the criminal justice system, and leaves out several other major reforms needed, including:

  • Ending the blood donor ban completely

  • Creating a uniform and inclusive regime for changing sex markers on federal and provincial government documents

  • Working with the governments of New Brunswick, Yukon and Nunavut to make their human rights laws trans inclusive

The non-announcement of a forthcoming apology is not the end of the LGBT rights movement in Canada. It’s only the beginning of a new volume in the history of our struggle.