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Justin Trudeau’s apology to LGBTQ well-intentioned but less substantial than his father’s legislation

By Wyatt Schiermann, December 6 2017 —

On Nov. 28, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave a formal apology for the wrongful treatment of the LGBTQ civil servants, as well as those in the military who were discharged because of their sexual orientation. The apology was also extended to those convicted of gross indecency for committing homosexual acts.

Ironically — as William Thorsell has argued in the Globe and Mail — Justin’s father Pierre Trudeau would not have approved of the formal apology, or any formal apology at all. Pierre did not believe it was the government’s responsibility to apologize on behalf of its predecessors’ actions.

He has a point. For an apology to be sincere, it must come from the individuals who committed the wrong. It’s unfortunate, but some wrongs can never properly be apologized for and governments can’t change the past.

Nonetheless, the apology is a well-intentioned gesture by Justin, as is the symbolism of his participation in pride parades over the years. But it’s Pierre’s watershed legislation, passed nearly 50 years ago, that deserves the most acclaim.

On Dec. 21, 1967 Pierre Trudeau introduced Bill C-195, which was later modified and reintroduced as Bill C-150. Included in the bill was the provision that decriminalized homosexuality between consenting adults in Canada.

Discrimination and prejudice still exist in Canada. But we reside in a society where two premiers are openly gay and our prime minister happily raises the pride flag. In the past, the crime of “buggery,” as it was termed, was illegal under Canadian law and punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

The legislation introduced to change these archaic laws was not an easy sell. For instance, a polling firm in Pierre Trudeau’s old riding of Mont Royal – Montreal showed only 24 per cent approved of decriminalizing homosexuality. But Pierre Trudeau was a contrarian — a man capable and willing to go against the current.  

Not surprisingly, Pierre Trudeau is the only Prime Minister inducted into Canada’s Queer Hall of Fame. Former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson has said that Pierre’s greatest legacy to Canadians was providing them the confidence to approach themselves and all their differences with minimal anxiety. By decriminalizing homosexuality, Pierre Trudeau demonstrated a high degree of sophistication. The confidence that many in the LGBTQ communities feel these days is in no small measure thanks to Pierre.

Looking back 50 years later, there is much to lament in the Canadian government’s shameful treatment of LGBTQ individuals. But when listening to Justin’s apology, I will recall his father and be thankful to that man.

Articles published in the Gauntlet‘s opinion section do not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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