In Depth

Canada offers £64m to ‘gay purge’ victims

PM Justin Trudeau cries as he apologises for historical mistreatment

Canada has set aside CAN$110m (£64m) to compensate people who were forced out of government jobs due to their sexual orientation in a ‘gay purge’ that lasted more than three decades.

Addressing “a packed and emotional chamber” at the House of Commons, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged Canada’s history of “systemic oppression, criminalisation, and violence” towards its LGBT citizens, CBC reports.

“It is our collective shame that you were so mistreated,” he said. “And it is our collective shame that this apology took so long - many who suffered are no longer alive to hear these words. And for that, we are truly sorry.”

As MPs rose to applaud the comments, Trudeau was seen to wipe his eyes.

The settlement, the result of a lawsuit by former government employees, represents an attempt to redress decades of persecution of gay public servants.

At the height of the “Red Scare” of the 1950s, the special unit of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police began a programme to purge gay employees from the civil service, police and armed forces.

Fears that their sexual orientation could make them susceptible to blackmail by Soviet spies were common in the West at the time - in Britain, gay men were banned from joining MI5 or MI6 on similar grounds until 1991.

Between the 1950s and 1990s, LGBT civil servants, federal police or armed forces members were subjected to interrogation or even placed under surveillance in an attempt to “expose” them and pressure them into naming other gay personnel.

In the early years of the purge, investigators employed a device nicknamed the “fruit machine”, which could supposedly detect homosexual inclinations, National Post reports. Subjects were shown pornographic images of men and women while instruments measured their heartbeat, pupil dilation and perspiration for signs of arousal.

By the time the programme formally ended in the 1990s, tens of thousands of people had been affected by the “gay purge”, The New York Times reports.

Gay rights activists welcomed the formal apology and offer of compensation for those who lost their livelihoods as a result of their sexual orientation. 

Helen Kennedy, of advocacy group Egale Canada, told CBC that it represented a "historic moment" for gay Canadians. "It gives them a sense of identity, it gives them a sense of self, and that they can move forward with their lives now knowing that they are not second-class citizens," she said. 

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