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Canada's Trudeau Formally Apologizes To LGBTQ Community For Decades Of Persecution


Canada's prime minister, Justin Trudeau, formally apologized today to his country's LGBTQ community. He acknowledged decades of persecution known in Canada as the gay purge.


PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: It is with shame and sorrow and deep regret for the things we have done that I stand here today and say we were wrong. We apologize. I am sorry. We are sorry.

MCEVERS: North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann is in Ottawa on Parliament Hill this afternoon, and he's with us now. Hey, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hey. How are you?

MCEVERS: Great. First just explain to us. What was the gay purge?

MANN: Well, it was similar in a lot of ways to the persecution gays and lesbians experienced in the U.S. for decades when they were pushed out of government service, hounded out of the military. Here in Canada, that effort to identify closeted members of the LGBTQ community was really aggressive - undercover operations, networks of informants, big raids, a lot of lives and careers ruined.

MCEVERS: And you've been talking to some of the victims there in Ottawa. What have you heard from them?

MANN: Yeah. It was a terrifying time that continued until the early 1990s. Just a few minutes ago, I spoke with Martine Roy (ph). She was in Canada's military. She was forced out. She was forced into psychiatric therapy by the government. You know, these were people who were just doing their jobs, serving their country. The excuse the government put forward at the time was that these were men and women who might be vulnerable to corruption by the Soviet Union. This is during the Cold War, much of it. And of course nothing like that ever happened.

MCEVERS: So now Prime Minister Trudeau has apologized. What happens after this?

MANN: Well, this apology follows a class-action lawsuit that was filed by many of these former military men and women and government workers. Canada has now offered a hundred million dollars in compensation for their losses, and the government has also promised a new investment in anti-homophobia campaigns. And this is a big deal. They're also working to expunge the criminal records. A lot of Canadians who were caught up in the gay purge and still have criminal records from that time.

MCEVERS: This kind of formal apology and compensation - how does it compare with other countries, including the U.S. and how they deal with histories of persecuting gays and lesbians in public life?

MANN: Yeah. Members of the LGBTQ community here say this goes a lot further than anything they've seen anywhere else in the world. And of course it does set Canada and Justin Trudeau pretty starkly apart from the U.S., where President Donald Trump even now is moving in the opposite direction, trying to reimpose a ban on transgender Americans in the U.S. military. And again, as a matter of fact, it appears that those servicemen and women are serving capably and honorably in uniform, but President Trump's policy would purge them from the ranks.

MCEVERS: Given that it was such an unprecedented move, what was it like to be there, you know, during this announcement, during this apology?

MANN: You know, it was a very emotional moment. And one fascinating thing that really sets this culture at this time apart from the U.S. is that there was a long standing ovation when Justin Trudeau apologized. Apologies are very controversial in the U.S., by contrast. And the Conservative Party here also issued an apology. They joined in apologizing to the LGBTQ community. Justin Trudeau has also been apologizing to other parts of Canadian society - Aboriginal people, First Nations people. And again, this idea of apologizing to people for past wrongs, offering redress - it's just not as controversial here. People in Canada seem to be embracing that idea.

MCEVERS: North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann in Ottawa, thank you so much.

MANN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TEEN DAZE'S "KILIKA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.
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