The Current

'A small victory': LGBTQ Canadians 'purged' from military and public service await apology

Next Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be apologizing to LGBTQ military and government employees for losing their jobs, dignity and privacy, because they were gay.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to offer an apology, Nov. 28, to Canadians 'purged' from military and public service for being gay - deemed a threat to national security. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Trudeau is set to make a historic apology Tuesday, addressing men and women of the Canadian military and civil service who were fired from their jobs and had their lives ruined because of their sexual orientation.

From 1950 to 1992, thousands of LGBTQ personnel across the civil service including Canadians in the military and RCMP were grilled by special investigation units, hooked up to polygraph machines and ultimately discharged from service — deemed a threat to national security.

My life was over as far as I knew it.- Frank Simpson, former navy steward

Martine Roy worked as a medical assistant in the military until 1984 and says she was "discharged for being a sexual deviant which was a homosexual."

Former soldier Martine Roy (left), who was dishonourably discharged because of her sexual orientation in 1985, is now part of a class action lawsuit launched by members of the LGBTQ community. (CBC News/Contributed)

After waiting 33 years for an apology, Roy says she never expected to hear one.

"For me, this apology will help not just me, it will help ... the whole Canadian society because it's a very dark era of our history. And I think that's why it's so important we talk about it, we say it happened," she tells The Current's Friday host Susan Ormiston.

"It is for me a very historic moment ...  it's time for Canada to show its real colours." 

It's a small victory for all of us who were purged.- Frank Simpson served in Canadian navy until 1978.

For Frank Simpson, who served as a navy steward until 1978, the expected apology feels like "it's a small victory for all of us who were purged."

Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance marches in the Ottawa Capital Pride parade, Aug. 27, 2017, the first time a chief of the defence staff has marched in a pride parade. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Simpson remembers the devastating moment he was given an honourable discharge. 

"The day that I got out, I immediately went downtown ... I looked for the tallest building I could find. I went to the top," he tells Ormiston but says he couldn't get to the outside.

"I was ready to jump. My life was over as far as I knew it," Simpson says.

When he went home, Simpson fell into a deep depression. 

While an apology doesn't close the door on this dark chapter of this life, he says it does help ease the pain.

"There's a bit of peace of mind that the government has finally realized that they were in the wrong."

An apology for historical wrongs

It's not just former Canadian government workers and military personnel who wait anxiously for Tuesday's apology. 

Author Gary Kinsman, who's a member of the We Demand An Apology Network, wants Trudeau's apology to also include historical wrongs committed by the Canadian government against LGBTQ people.

The We Demand An Apology Network says it hopes Tuesday's apology to LGBTQ personnel discharged from civil service also includes other historical wrongs by the Canadian government towards the community. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

"It's really crucial that the apology on Tuesday ... include a really clear commitment to the expungement of criminal convictions both before 1969 and after."

'Fruit machine' tests gayness 

As part of the decades-long governmental campaign to discharge LGBTQ staff from the Canadian military and public service, a test referred to as the 'fruit machine,' was used by officials to "detect" gayness.

The test subjected people to suggestive images and pupil response were measured.

The Fruit Machine
One of the images shown to suspected LGBTQ public servants as part of the so-called 'fruit machine' testing during the Cold War. (CBC)

An 'incredibly flawed' system, says Sarah Fodey, documentary filmmaker behind TVO's The Fruit Machine.

Fodey explains the archaic device in further detail:

This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese, Samira Mohyeddin and Yamri Taddese.