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RCMP uses ‘fruit machine’ to detect gays

The Story

In the 1950s and '60s, homosexuality is considered by many to be a horrible, shameful defect. With the Cold War in full swing, the Canadian government fears that closeted gays in the civil service, military or RCMP are a security risk - if their homosexuality was to be discovered by the enemy, they could be blackmailed into giving up government secrets. So the RCMP embarks on a mission to find and remove all gays from the civil service. They even have a so-called "fruit machine" to test for homosexuality. This 2005 CBC-TV clip looks back at this strange time in Canadian history.

Medium: Television
Program: Canada Now: Ottawa
Broadcast Date: May 12, 2005
Guest(s): Alex Brett, Barry Deeprose, Paul Fournier, Gary Kinsman
Reporter: Simon Gardner
Duration: 6:49

Did You know?

• The "fruit machine" resembled a dentist's chair, with a small camera on a pulley aimed at the subject's pupils. The suspected gay person was shown various photos, some of which had images that would ostensibly excite a homosexual. If their pupils dilated when looking at certain images, it was seen as an indicator of their homosexuality.

• The RCMP targeted hundreds of suspected gays throughout the 1950s and '60s, but one of the best known was John Wendell Holmes. He was a respected Canadian diplomat whose work was admired by many, including Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. After being grilled by the RCMP, however, Holmes admitted to his homosexuality and was quietly removed from public service in 1960. He went on to become a successful academic. This secret chapter in his life is recounted in a 2009 book by Adam Chapnick called Canada's Voice: The Public Life of John Wendell Holmes.




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