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Canada to erect national monument to remember LGBT+ purge

Canada to erect national monument to remember LGBT+ purge

  • The C$8million memorial will remember a ‘cruel and unjust’ witch hunt of thousands of LGBT+ Canadians.
The Royal Canadian Navy Memorial.

Canada is to erect a national memorial to commemorate its LGBT+ purge when a witch hunt forced thousands of Canadians out of public service.

The purge was a systematic attempt to drive LGBT+ people out of the armed forces, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other government jobs.

It ran at the height of the Cold War from the 1950s to the 1990s. And it continued even after Canada decriminalized gay sex in 1967.

The purge only ended in 1992 after a legal challenge.

Now Canada’s capital Ottawa will gain a permanent memorial to remember those dark days and help the country move forward.

The National Capital Commission has unanimously approved a site for the memorial which will cost around C$8million (US$5.6million, €5.3million).

The site is on a gently sloping green space and will have clear views of the Supreme Court of Canada and Parliament Hill.

It is close to the Royal Canadian Navy Monument (pictured above) and Library and Archives Canada, to the north of Wellington Street and the east of Portage Bridge.

The 6,300-square-metre, gently sloping plot of land will be able to accommodate around 2,000 people for gatherings.

‘A celebration and call to action’

Todd Ross was one of the victims of the purge. He was serving in the Canadian Navy on the HMCS Saskatchewan in 1989. When they suspected his sexuality, they interrogated him and gave him six polygraph tests over 18 months.

Eventually he admitted he was gay. As a result, they forced the 21-year-old seaman out of his job. He returned to his home in New Brunswick ‘emotionally distraught’ and even attempted suicide.

He told the Washington Post he hopes the memorial will be a timeless commemoration. But he also notes the LGBT+ community has further to go in Canada and wants it to be ‘a celebration and almost a call to action’.

‘Cruel and unjust purge’

Ross was not alone either in Canada or in the West generally.

In the paranoid Cold War era, homophobic officials convinced themselves that the Soviet Union could entrap and blackmail gay men and women. In fact, there’s no evidence any foreign government ever managed to blackmail an LGBT+ Canadian into giving up government secrets.

Unlike in other countries, however, Canada has faced up to its past.

In November 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed a packed Parliament about the ‘cruel and unjust’ purge.

He said it will ‘forever remain a tragic act of discrimination suffered by Canadian citizens at the hands of their own government’.

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said of the new memorial: ‘Monuments . . . can unite us in grief, help us learn about our past and bring us together as Canadians.

‘This monument will invite Canadians to reflect on this shameful time in our history and allow us to move forward together toward a future where all Canadians are respected for who they are.’

Meanwhile, victims are also getting compensation.

Indeed, the money to pay from the memorial is coming from a C$145 (US$103million, €96million) compensation fund. Victims won the compensation as part of a class action lawsuit against the Canadian government.

Canada joins countries with permanent LGBT+ memorial

Coronavirus has delayed an international design competition to create the new memorial in Ottawa. However, builders still hope to complete it on schedule by 2024.

When it is built Canada will join a small group of countries. Very few nations remember their persecution of LGBT+ people with a permanent monument.

GSN’s research indicates that there are fewer than 10 countries with physical LGBT+ memorials around the world.

Moreover, many of the memorials which exist remember LGBT+ victims of the Nazi Holocaust rather than the country’s own persecution. Several others remember a single victim, such as Alan Turing, rather than a wider group.