Apology part of mandate for LGBTQ adviser Randy Boissonnault

In his new role as special adviser to the prime minister on LGBTQ issues, Edmonton MP Randy Boissonnault will work to protect and advance the rights of sexual and gender minorities. But a key part of moving forward will be addressing the wrongs of the past with a federal apology.

'We have to address the historical wrongs because the gov't did some terrible things to really good people'

Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault has been named special adviser to the prime minister on LGBTQ issues. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

In his new role as special adviser to the prime minister on LGBTQ issues, Edmonton MP Randy Boissonnault said he will address the wrongs of the past while working to protect and advance the righs of sexual and gender minorities.

Part of his role includes defining the scope and nature of an apology from the federal government for years of discrimination. 

"We have to address the historical wrongs because the government did some terrible things to really good people," said Boissonnault.

In an interview with CBC News Tuesday following the announcement of his appointment, Boissonnault said he believes the apology will go "a long way" because "it's an official recognition of the government that the state did something that we no longer find acceptable."

Boissonnault pointed to upwards of 9,000 federal public servants driven from their jobs between the 1950s and 1990s because of their sexual or gender identity or orientation.

He said many were questioned, or even interrogated, by agents of the government and then discharged from the government, military and RCMP. 

The questioning went on over months or years, sometimes with polygraphs, at times forcing some to come out prematurely.

Activist Michael Phair said more attention needs to be paid to LGBTQ seniors.

Past and current discrimination faced by Canada's LGBTQ community is documented in a June report released by Egale Canada Human Rights Trust. The government has vowed to take action.

In May, the government tabled legislation to affirm the rights of gender-diverse Canadians. Plans are also in the works to repeal a Criminal Code provision that makes it illegal to have anal sex under the age of 18, unless it is between a husband and wife.

Boissonnault said that shows the government is serious about making real change. He emphasized a large part of his role is simply to listen to a wide range of community members across the country.

"This is our community's opportunity for a truth and reconciliation process where we can really listen and be able to respond respectfully and appropriately as a government," he said.

Former Edmonton city councillor Michael Phair, the first openly gay elected official in Alberta, welcomed the opportunity for countrywide input.

He urged Ottawa to pay special attention to LGBTQ seniors, to increase services and understanding of transgender Canadians, and to conduct more data collection and research.

"That helps all of us to have a better understanding of who we're dealing with, what the issues are and what needs to be done," said Phair.

Boissonnault said consultations will also look at health issues and how to address the needs of those who identify as two-spirit, a term used to describe sexual and gender minorities in the Indigenous community.

Educate health-care professionals

Addressing health issues is one of a number of recommendations by Joanne Picard, vice chair of the gay-straight alliance club at Edmonton's Holy Trinity High School.

"We need to support and educate medical professionals in better meeting our physical and emotional needs," said Picard, 18, who also chairs the social equity subcommittee with the city of Edmonton's youth council. "Gender is fluid, and I think the health-care system needs some education on how we approach this gender fluidity."

Other suggestions from Picard include improving mental health services for youth, ensuring gender issues are discussed openly in classrooms to create more understanding towards LGBTQ students, and providing resources for teachers to help make classrooms more inclusive.

Picard praised Boissonnault for seeking out perspectives of youth.

"I think this is an exciting move by prime minister Trudeau, and I am truly excited to see what happens next," she said.

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca          @andreahuncar