During the recent Winter Olympics in Sochi a great deal of press attention was devoted to President Putin's anti-gay laws which serve to sanction discrimination against members of Russia's gay, lesbian, bi, and transgendered community. Now that the Games are over perhaps it's time that we, as Canadians, take a few moments to reflect back on our own country's record concerning queer rights. Did you know, for example, that in 1859 Canada repatriated its so called "buggery" law making it a death penalty offence which remained the law until 1869?
In 1892 the Canadian government chose to enact a broader "gross indecency" law which was essentially a means of targeting the sexual activities of gay men not heterosexuals. Further changes to Canada's criminal code were made in 1948 and again in 1961. During this time in our nation's history male homosexuals were considered to be "criminal sexual psychopaths" and deemed as dangerous offenders. Men who were convicted for committing gay sex acts were subject to incarceration for varying prison terms.
The last man to be arrested, charged, prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison for the crime of engaging in homosexual acts was released in 1971. That man was named George Klippert and he was a mechanic from the Northwest Territories. Although Klippert had initially been detained for questioning on an unrelated criminal case he was subjected to intense police questioning and it was during this rigorous interrogation that he admitted to having had consensual gay sex with four different men. Klippert was promptly arrested on multiple counts of gross indecency. A psychiatrist was then appointed by the court to examine Klippert. This so called mental health expert deemed the man to be an incurable homosexual who needed to be jailed in order to prevent committing further offenses. Although George Klippert appealed to both the Court of Appeal for the Northwest Territories as well as the Supreme Court of Canada both of his appeals were dismissed.
Soon after the Supreme Court ruling against Klippert NDP leader Tommy Douglas spoke about the case in the Canadian House of Commons. He stated his belief that homosexuality should be dealt with as a social and psychiatric problem and not a matter for criminal prosecution. Weeks later, Pierre Trudeau, then the Minister of Justice, tabled the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1968-69 or Bill C-150 which decriminalized homosexual acts between consenting adults. The outspoken Trudeau made news in December 21, 1967 when we publicly commented on the legislation by saying, "...I think the view we take here is that there's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation, and what's done in private between adults doesn't concern the Criminal Code..."
Bill C-150 passed and homosexuality was decriminalized in Canada in 1969. Despite this change in the law its interesting, if not astonishing, to note that George Klippert, who was imprisoned at the Prince Albert maximum security Penitentiary, wasn't released until July 1971.
As Canadian citizens we should feel a sense of pride for the progress our country has mad in regard to GLBT rights. For example in 1992 it became legal for gay and lesbian soldiers to serve openly in the Canadian military. Also, not that long ago, in 2005, same sex marriage became legal all across this great land.
Of course despite all the strides the queer community has made it should also be noted that once again, for the most part at least, women have been left out of the discussion. Anti-gay and anti- sodomy laws as well as offenses such as buggery were criminalized in order to prosecute gay men but one wonders how such laws affected the sexual lives of lesbians. All too often it seems that female sexuality is either forgotten, deemed irrelevant, or else ignored by society.