Everett Klippert: The last Canadian to go to jail simply for being gay

Everett Klippert was the last Canadian incarcerated for simply being gay. The firestorm ignited by that case pressured the federal government to decriminalize same-sex acts between consenting adults four years later.

1965 legal case started firestorm that led to decriminalization of same-sex acts

Everett Klippert was sentenced to remain in jail indefinitely, on the grounds he was likely to have sex with men if released, but was finally freed in 1971. He died in 1996. (Submitted by Kevin Allen/Klippert family )

On the morning of Aug.16, 1965, in Pine Point, N.W.T., the RCMP began looking into a suspicious fire.

By lunch, they had a suspect — Everett Klippert, a 39-year-old mechanic's helper who moved to town a year before. 

That afternoon, officers brought Klippert to the Hay River detachment for further questioning. In less than a few hours they determined Klippert had nothing to do with the fire. But he had told officers something that would keep him in custody for the next six years.

Klippert told them he was gay. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will deliver an apology on Tuesday to members of the LGBT community for persecution against them and for actions the government took against thousands of federal workers from the 1950s to the 1990s as part of a "national security" purge.

Klippert is recognized as the last Canadian who was incarcerated simply for being gay. The firestorm ignited by that case pressured the federal government to decriminalize same-sex acts four years later.

This is his story.

Early life

Klippert was born in Saskatchewan in 1926. His family, including his eight older siblings, moved to Calgary when he was two years old.

Klippert left school in Grade 8 and, after a few odd jobs, he began driving a transit bus in Calgary.

When he was 34, Klippert was arrested after the father of one of his lovers made a complaint to police. Klippert admitted that he had had consensual sexual relations with many other men and was charged with 18 counts of gross indecency. He was sentenced to four years in custody.

"Klippert came from a big Baptist family. He felt ashamed of the whole situation and thought that his continued existence in Calgary brought shame to his family," says Kevin Allen, the lead researcher with the Calgary Gay History Project.

"He wanted to clear out of town. He had a contact who had a lead on a job in the Northwest Territories."

Klippert was the last Canadian to be jailed for being gay, and his case spurred the decriminalization of same-sex acts between consenting adults. (Submitted by Kevin Allen/Klippert family)

'Dangerous sexual offender'

He was hired as a garage mechanic's helper at the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada — later renamed Cominco Ltd. — in Pine Point, N.W.T., in 1964.

According to court documents, Klippert said he was approached by a member of the Pine Point RCMP that summer.

An officer warned him police knew of his criminal record and that he should "more or less watch his behaviour," he said.

The arson investigation happened a year later.

Klippert, right, is shown with his brothers in this family photo. He was born in Saskatchewan in 1926 and had eight older siblings. (Submitted by Kevin Allen/Klippert family)

Court documents don't say what led to police arrest Klippert for arson but during questioning he admitted to having sex with four men in the Northwest Territories.

Police charged him with four counts of gross indecency. At the time, the charge included any acts of homosexuality. On Aug. 24, 1965 in a Fort Smith, N.W.T., courtroom, he was sentenced to three years in jail.

The judge in his case also put forth an application for Klippert to be designated a "dangerous sexual offender" because he believed Klippert was unable to "control his sexual urges."

Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau responds to a Supreme Court decision that Everett George Klippert should be locked up indefinitely because of his homosexuality.

Incarcerated indefinitely

Two psychiatrists interviewed Klippert as part of that application. In their reports, they painted Klippert as a kind, gentle man and that "there was no danger of him doing physical violence or injury to anyone."

But both psychiatrists wrote that if Klippert was released from custody he would "likely commit a further sexual offence" — meaning he would continue to have sex with men.

On March 9, 1966, Judge J.H. Sissons declared Klippert a dangerous sexual offender and sentenced him to be incarcerated indefinitely.

Klippert appealed that decision with the N.W.T. Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Canada, but both were dismissed.

The Klippert case stoked considerable media and political interest. Many newspapers — from the Edmonton Journal to the Montreal Gazette — and politicians came out in support of legal reform to decriminalize homosexuality in response to his incarceration.

"I think it's absolutely ridiculous," N.W.T. MP Bud Orange told CBC News on Nov. 7, 1967, the day the Supreme Court dismissed Klippert's appeal.

"I hope the ridiculousness of this situation forces the government to make a move in this regard," he said.

Six weeks later, Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau followed suit.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau speaks to a large crowd with a bull horn in Saskatoon in 1969. That year, he tabled Bill C-150, decriminalizing same-sex acts for consenting adults. (Peter Bregg/Canadian Press)

He introduced a bill that, among other things, called for the decriminalization of private, consensual homosexual acts between people over the age of 21.

In making his case for the legislation, Trudeau delivered his famous line: "There's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation." (Globe and Mail columnist Martin O'Malley had coined that line earlier in an article spurred by the Klippert case.)

Trudeau's bill became law in 1969, decriminalizing homosexuality in Canada, but Klippert wasn't released from jail until July 1971. He died in 1996 at the age of 69.

Last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Klippert would be given a full pardon.

Julie Green, herself the first elected politician in the Northwest Territories to be married to someone of the same sex, says Klippert's case was instrumental for her.

"I'm very moved by his case," she said. "His generation did a really good job of pushing the state out of our bedrooms and to let us determine our own lives. I really benefited from that generation of activism."

For Allen, who has spent his life telling this story, Klippert's legacy reaches beyond the North to all Canadians.

"Coming out cost Klippert much," he said.

"We can thank his candour for prompting Canada to change its draconian laws around sexual orientation."

Kevin Allen spent his life researching Klippert's story. He says Klippert's candour helped end 'draconian' laws against LGBT Canadians. (Submitted by Kevin Allen)