Mr. Speaker, it truly is an honour to be standing here to speak about this very important bill, Bill C-6. As usual, I do my research, I write my notes and then I stand in the House of Commons and decide I am not going to talk about all the things in my notes, but will share some of the experiences I have had as an ally to the LGBTQ community, recognizing some of the relationships that I have built in this community as an ally and speak with their support.
Back in 2018, I was invited to view the documentary The Fruit Machine in Ottawa. The director brought forward this documentary speaking about what happened in the Canadian Armed Forces to members of the LGBTQ community from the 1950s up to the 1990s. It is their stories that we need to hear today; we need to talk about what actually happened.
To begin, I would like to thank Sarah Fodey for her work to bring this story to light. Sarah was the director of this documentary and stated:
I want people to leave this documentary angry that this [injustice] happened, and committed to talking about it in their own communities. I also want people to cry and laugh in parts of this film.... [Many of the survivors] have used humour as a way to cope, I suspect.... They are magnetic. You want to hear more from them because they make you laugh on the heels of making you cry. It's a beautiful combination.
We need to look at the history of discrimination against the LGBTQ community in Canada to reconcile what has happened and see how we can move forward. That is why Bill C-6 is something to move forward. I will be honest that there are some concerns. Those concerns are not so embedded in me that I feel we cannot overcome them, but I do understand some of them. We need to look at the history in Canada and what has happened to members of the LGBTQ community. We should have great shame. I know that back in 2018 there were formal apologies from all of the party leaders in the House to the members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP and some members of the civil service, who lost their positions and careers because they were identifying as members of the LGBTQ community.
I want to back go to the history. As I indicated, this goes back to when the fruit machine was being used. During the Cold War, Canada investigated federal employees and members of the Canadian Armed Forces deemed susceptible to blackmail by Soviet spies. This is 2021 and we do not see that anymore, but back then there was a huge concern that members of the LGBTQ community would be used as collateral. They would be used and held as collateral and they did not know what to do in those positions.
Homosexuality was grounds for surveillance and interrogation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police under the directive of the newly established security panel. Over the course of four decades, thousands of men and women had their privacy invaded, their careers ruined and their lives destroyed because of this scientific machine and a disgraceful mandate that was put forward.
We ask what this machine was all about. To be honest, when we look at it, we can say it is like conversion therapy. They used this machine. They would hook people up and see whether their pupils dilated. For three years, members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP and the civil servants were put into this situation and had to prove they were not members of the LGBTQ community. This fruit machine was being used to test them, just like a lie detector machine. They were asked personal questions. The types of responses they gave, whether were they stressed or lying, were looked at. We have to understand the discrimination that so many members of this community had gone through while all they were trying to do was serve our great country.
The development of this machine was very riveting. Lots of people wanted to know about it, but it was a failure and after three years, its use was discontinued. The fruit machine story captures the imagination and is truly symbolic of what members of the LGBTQ community were feeling, like conversion therapy. I look at these two things as coinciding.
I look at the way members of our Canadian Armed Forces were treated and think of a story that was published in The Washington Post by Todd Ross, who was in naval combat. I want to read this to look at what we have done in Canada, how we can do better and how this bill would move us forward.
Todd Ross was a naval combat information operator on the HMCS Saskatchewan in 1989 when he was called out over the public address system, escorted off the destroyer by officers and told he was the subject of an espionage probe.
Over the next 18 months, Ross was given six polygraph tests and interrogated about his sexual orientation and loyalty to Canada.
Eventually, he broke down. Facing a two-way mirror, he admitted to a stranger what he had not yet told some close confidants.
“Yes,” Ross said. “I'm gay.”
The 21-year-old seaman was given an ultimatum: Accept an honourable discharge or lose his security clearance, effectively extinguishing any prospect of career advancement. He chose the discharge and returned home to New Brunswick, where only a few years earlier he had been named the province’s top army cadet.
Ross was one of thousands who lost careers in the armed forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other government agencies during the country’s notorious “gay purge” from the 1950s to the 1990s. A legal challenge brought the policy to an end in 1992. Now its victims are gaining greater recognition.
I want to talk about the person who actually started this process. I have been so fortunate to meet her, not only at the status of women committee as a witness, but also through this work she has done on the LGBTQ purge. Her name is Michelle Douglas. Many people are probably very familiar with Michelle Douglas here in Ottawa and the great work that she has done for the LGBTQ community. She was talking about her time in the Canadian Armed Forces. I want to read from a committee report. It said:
The Committee heard testimony that was consistent with the findings of the Deschamps Report: many witnesses described a sexualized and male-dominated workplace where a culture of abuse, discrimination and harassment based on gender, gender expression and sexual orientation exists. Women and individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirit or as other gender identities and sexual orientations...are disproportionately affected by sexual misconduct and harassment in the CAF. The Committee was told that, although there is a belief that the CAF is a “gender neutral” workplace, it is not the case. While women can perform brilliantly in military roles, some do so by conforming to and adopting “highly masculine behaviours and, for some, masculine world views, attitudes and values.” For this reason, witnesses stressed the need for cultural change to create a more respectful and inclusive workplace for all CAF members. Michelle Douglas, Chair of the LGBT Purge Fund, said:
I believe that the military's policy regarding inclusion, particularly towards women—both cisgender women and transgender women—is actually quite good. The military has, of course, all of the things that they must have: pay parity, access to career paths, family support and so on. The establishment of the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre is a good thing and so was the establishment [of things and practices to ensure that we can move forward.]
These are things that I want to talk about because I look at the fact that we are sitting here today and can see how far we have moved forward, but the journey is not over. For members of the LGBTQ community, it is a very important time. That is why I want to talk about what is occurring starting tomorrow, which is the beginning of pride month here in Canada.
I will be honest. Back in 2018, I was really excited to do 160,000 steps for pride. I had gone on the pride circuit and was joining members of the community across this country to celebrate who they are and the fact that they are just the same as me. They deserve the same rights, the same opportunities and equity in this great country.
As I said, pride is such an important time. With pride starting tomorrow, we have to understand where it started. This truly was a political movement. This was because of things that happened in places like the Canadian Armed Forces. We can also talk about New York and things that were happening down there.
This was born out of a fight for the rights of LGBTQ communities. We are doing a really good job when it comes to education, engagement and bringing people together to have these conversations. This is exactly why I am so proud to be a member of Parliament and to have great friends even within this chamber.
Outside the chamber, I also think of my dear friend Anthony who I love dearly and who should be clapping out there. It is great conversations with people like Anthony that help me move forward with my own thoughts. Having those types of conversations is very vital to understanding and education.
I will never walk in the shoes of a member of the LGBTQ community. I am a heterosexual woman who is married with five children. I have never been discriminated against because of who I have chosen to love, but I do understand that members of the LGBTQ community have. That is why I think we need to look at these important milestones.
We look back at 1969, when Canada decriminalized homosexual acts through the Criminal Law Amendment Act. Then we look at some things that happened in 1971. There was the first gay rights protest. Across the cities of Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto and in some smaller communities, hundreds of people gathered to protest and to bring forward the rights of LGBTQ communities. It was 1971. That was the year I was born. Fifty years later, we are still talking about it; we still can do better, and Bill C-6 is one of those ways.
I look at 1973, and pride week in 1973. It was a national LGBT rights event held in August 1973 in Ottawa, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Saskatoon and Winnipeg, so even in two years we saw the growth of this.
However, there was still a lot of discrimination. We can look back at 1981 where, in Toronto there was Operation Soap. These were raids that took place. The police actually stormed bathhouses in Toronto and they arrested almost 300 men for being gay. This was Canada's stonewall. We hear a lot about the stonewall that happened and the movement of pride in the United States that had started to occur in 1969. Operation Soap was one of the largest mass arrests in Canada, and it was over 35 years ago.
When we look at those things, what can we do? We know that the police officers have apologized. The Toronto police chief actually came out and formally apologized. Those are ways of making amends. Those are ways of bringing us together so that we can start having those conversations. Once in a while, it is okay to say, “I did not understand” or “I did not get it”. Understanding what some of these men had gone through during Operation Soap is so important, and I really thank them.
In 1988, here in our own House of Commons, MP Svend Robinson came out as the first openly gay member of Parliament. Today, I know that there are many others and I am so proud because, at the end of the day, we are all here representing Canadians. Regardless of who we love, we are all people first and that is what we always have to remember when we are having these conversations. We are all equal. It does not matter who one loves. We are equal.
In 1990, we saw that there was a change, and the indigenous community started to gather in this, and that is when the term “two-spirited” was coined. This was just taking in the concept that when we are speaking about LGBTQ, we understand the rights of the indigenous people who are also of this community.
In 1995, sexual orientation was included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These are things that are progressively getting better, making things better for all Canadians. I am so proud of that. We do know that back in 2000, once again there was another raid. This took place in Toronto and it was a lesbian nightclub that police raided this time. We ask, “why did they do this?” It was because people were homophobic. People were concerned with people's actions and sexual orientation. To me, it is no one else's business.
However, as we are talking about this, I do understand also some of the concerns I am hearing from those who are saying there needs to be a better definition. I can still have that conversation. I know that many members in this chamber will sit there and say someone is either right or is wrong. Sometimes they do not have to be right or wrong. Sometimes, there is just something that is so minute that it could make things a bit better. I was listening to my friend from Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan and I know he is always pushing for just a bit better.
The reason I am looking at this is the testimony that was brought forward in committee. Timothy Keslick is an ASL-English interpreter. I want to read his introductory statement. It is just a little phrase, but this is where we need to talk and this is where talking always comes out better and we do not have to think of it as conversion therapy. Sometimes it is just understanding. In Timothy's opening statement, he stated:
Under this bill, this kind of therapy would be taken away from me. The bill doesn't make any distinctions between good therapy or bad therapy. The bill would capture my therapy as one that wants to reduce non-heterosexual attraction or, more specifically, sexual behaviour. Without realizing that my therapy isn't actually trying to stop me from dating any guy, it's simply trying to stop me from dating the wrong guy. It's there trying to help me avoid people and situations that would harm me and have already harmed me.
That is why I wanted to bring this up. When we talk about this, there are so many discrepancies on what conversations are, what “talk” is. I do understand. When we see bills like Bill C-10 that are just so poorly written come out from this House of Commons, I understand why many people will say that they cannot trust the current government, that they do not think the government is going to do exactly what they want.
That is why, when I look at this bill, I understand how the government so poorly writes legislation. I get it. It does not mean I have to agree with it, but I understand why there is some conflict within people.
If we look at Bill C-10, for instance, we know that it needs an amendment, but when the government gets the idea that it is right, it doubles down. On this bill it has doubled, tripled and quadrupled down. At the end of the day, I think it is so imperative that we have open and honest discussion. This is why we are having this discussion on what is good and what is bad therapy.
When we are talking about families, I think therapy helps remove the stigma, which is probably one of the most impressive things I have seen over the last couple of years. With COVID, we see that a number of people need to talk to people. I need to talk to people. My colleagues need to talk to people. Once in a while, we just need to bounce an idea off somebody else who is not a family member, or we need to bounce something off somebody who has been in the same situation.
I think of my own case. I do not know of any members of my family who are LGBTQ, and that is fine. Regardless, I am saying it is important that we have these conversations with our children, that freedom of conversation. I think of my son, who will be 18 years old in two weeks. It is important that I talk to him about sex. Members may ask why I want to talk to my 18-year-old about sex. It is because I want to ensure that he understands consent. I want to ensure he understands how to treat a woman. I want to ensure that he has a healthy relationship.
I have come from unhealthy relationships in the past and that is not a good thing. It takes a lot of time for people to be able to find that bright light, so sometimes having these talks is exactly what somebody may need. That is why when I hear some of my colleagues say that Bill C-6 is not a good bill, I understand why they would say the government writes poor legislation. We want to get it right.
I want to go back more to pride, the members of the LGBTQ community and why I will be supporting this bill overall. I look at the fact we have seen things such as the fruit machine here in Canada. We have seen this in our own backyards, where members of the RCMP, the Canadian Armed Forces and members who serve this great country were told they could not participate because they were gay or lesbian.
There is no space in this world or this country for people to not have equal opportunities because they are gay and lesbian. To me it does not matter who people love, as long as they can love. Those are the things I look at. These are the conversations we should be able to have, but because it is so political, we cannot have them all the time.
I have walked on behalf of the LGBTQ community out there, supporting it as an ally, because I know it is the right thing to do. I know that discrimination continues to happen. I have been in pride parades and had people yelling at me for walking in them.
I felt shame for that person who was yelling at me for walking in that parade, but I was so proud to be walking with those other thousands of people who are walking in them. If I am being yelled at as a heterosexual, I can only imagine how the people of that community feel. Sometimes that is what we need to look at.
This is about compassion. It is about how we help people. It is not about changing their sexual orientation. I do not believe that is something we should be focusing on. I believe in healthy lifestyles. I believe in healthy relationships. I believe in talk therapy when it is good therapy, not bad therapy.
I do not support conversion therapy and I never will, but I thank everybody for having these conversations, and I ask that we do better once in a while. When we have these conversations, let us not tell people they are wrong just because they are a Conservative. Instead, let us figure it out and find a way of getting there together. Unfortunately, in this place, sometimes we find that extraordinarily difficult.
I will be supporting Bill C-6. It is not perfect, but I believe in the principle. I feel eternally inside of me that I must support members of the LGBTQ community, and that is what I will do.