• James Armstrong

Federal apology to LGBTQ2 community resonates in Vaudreuil-Soulanges


PHOTO BY JAMES ARMSTRONG

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended a reception held at the Ottawa Drill Hall following his formal apology to the LGBTQ2 community made in parliament earlier in the day November 28. He spoke to the guests, reiterating how important the events of the day were to himself and his children and would have been to his late father, former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

The invited members of the Canadian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and 2 Spirited Community (LGBTQ2) assembled quietly in the Ottawa Drill Hall and the House of Commons gallery on Tuesday, November 28, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood and issued a formal apology.

The guests were watching a live video feed from the House of Commons and also participated in a reception attended by Trudeau and members of parliament following the apology. Vaudreuil-Soulanges Member of Parliament Peter Schiefke issued invitations to the event to several area residents.

Recognition of past mistakes

“Today, we acknowledge an often overlooked part of Canada’s history,” Trudeau began. “Today, we finally talk about Canada’s role in the systemic oppression, criminalization and violence against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and 2 Spirited Communities.” He said that by discussing the incidents of mistreatment, they will never be repeated and in righting these wrongs, healing could begin.

The apology covered a wide range of injustices perpetrated against members of the Royal Canadian Air, Army and Navy Forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the federal civil service, and Canadian citizens.

Governmental purges

“A purge that lasted decades will forever remain a tragic act of discrimination suffered by Canadian citizens at the hands of their own government. From the 1950s to the early 1990s, the Government of Canada exercised its authority in a cruel and unjust manner, undertaking a campaign of oppression against members, and suspected members, of the LGBTQ2 communities,” said the PM. “The goal was to identify these workers throughout the public service, including the Foreign Service, the military, and the RCMP, and persecute them.”

The apology was direct and to the point. “It is with shame and sorrow and deep regret for the things we have done that I stand here today and say we were wrong. We apologize. I am sorry. We are sorry,” said Trudeau.

PHOTO BY JAMES ARMSTRONG

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (centre) was greeted by guests at the reception held at the Ottawa Drill Hall on Tuesday, November 28 following his apology speech to Canada’s LGBTQ2 community.

It also included the announcement of the Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act tabled earlier in the day in the House of Commons. “This will mean that Canadians convicted of consensual sexual activity with same-sex partners will have their criminal records permanently destroyed,” said Trudeau. He also announced an agreement in principle with those in the class action lawsuit against the federal government for actions related to the purge.

Local reaction

Positive reaction to the apology came from local citizens. “Mr. Trudeau certainly gave us a bright light in a very dark world. I was very pleased that he made the apology although it doesn’t make up for what happened to a lot of people,” said Vaudreuil-Dorion resident Dolores Meade. “The thing about apologies is that it takes a long time for attitudes and policies to change,” she added.

“I thought Mr. Trudeau was brilliant. The apology touched me deeply,” said Louise Gauthier. She recounted her involvement in the lesbian-gay rights movement during the 1970s.

“I was a young activist. I started at the age of 16. Fortunately, I didn’t have any difficulties with being a gay woman,” said Gauthier adding that she was very aware of the difficulties faced by friends and members of her own family. Gauthier and Meade, a couple for 32 years, know firsthand the struggles the LGBTQ2 community have gone through to achieve recognition of same sex marriage. They were married in a civil ceremony in 2004.

“We were married at the Stephen F. Shaar Community Centre in Hudson with 130 of our closest family and friends in attendance,” said Gauthier. “I hope the apology will continue to open doors for young people and that older people will find that it’s okay to feel good about themselves. It’s never too late to feel good about who you are.”

“I was proud to receive an invitation to attend and very sad and disappointed not to be able to go due to a work conflict,” said Saint-Lazare resident Vivianne LaRiviere. “I was surprised by how much I was moved when I heard it on the radio. It touched me at an emotional, spiritual and physical level,” she added.

Lack of social services

“This area, Vaudreuil-Soulanges, is reasonably accepting of LGBTQ2 people. However, there is a lack of social services,” she said pointing out that bullying of adolescents continues to happen and gay seniors tend to live in isolation.

“Where are LGBTQ2 people supposed to go?” she asked. LaRiviere remembered the risks of being discovered as LGBTQ2 and the fight for civil rights. “It took a lot of courage. Freedom is frequently taken for granted,” she said noting that a younger generation of LGBTQ2 people now have an older generation to look to. “We need to keep the elders’ colourful stories alive.”

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