A Liberal bill to address historic injustices against LGBT Canadians is too narrow and discriminates against those swept up in ‘bawdy house’ raids and left with harmful criminal records, according to some senators studying the legislation.
Bill C-66 allows gay, lesbian and transgender persons to apply for past criminal records to be expunged, but eligibility is limited to three offences: gross indecency, buggery and anal intercourse.
Testifying before the Senate’s human rights committee today, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale defended that decision, saying the government wants to focus initially on the “defunct” offences to avoid any delay that could be caused by including other offences that could prove more challenging to deal with.
“We have quite deliberately drafted the bill in such a way as to leave the door open for other offences after due consideration to be added in the future,” he said.
Conservative Sen. Salma Ataullahjan asked why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in his formal apology delivered in the House of Commons on Nov. 28, 2017, specifically mentioned bawdy house provisions but left those offences out of the bill.
“This omission has generated significant concern for LGBT Canadians and others,” she said.
In that speech, the prime minister said discrimination against LGBT communities was codified in criminal offences like “buggery,” “gross indecency” and bawdy house provisions.
“Bathhouses were raided, people were entrapped by police,” he said.
In February 1981, Toronto police officers armed with crowbars and sledgehammers raided four city bathhouses and arrested more than 250 gay men.
The Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act allows those who were criminalized for same-sex activity between consenting adults to apply to the National Parole Board to have their records erased.
Spouses, parents, siblings, children or legal representatives can apply for record expungement on behalf of deceased persons.
Historical records preserved
Goodale said while the criminal record will be wiped out, the related documents will be retained to preserve the historical record.
“We’re trying to make things right to the extent that is possible all these years later for people who did nothing wrong but were unjustly persecuted, to our collective embarrassment and shame,” he said.
There are an estimated 9,000 historical records of convictions for gross indecency, buggery and anal intercourse in RCMP databases, but not all of them will be eligible for expungement.
Independent Sen. René Cormier, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, called the bill a step in the right direction but added the bawdy house exclusion is a flaw.
“To be frank and honest, I think we need to be reassured or to have further study on why you didn’t include bawdy houses in the bill, because we know when we see people who have criminal records, bawdy houses were used as a reason for a number of offences,” he said.
Goodale insisted the bill allows for the addition of more offences in future, and suggested the Senate might take on the task of studying future adjustments.
“I would suggest this one doesn’t need more study. It needs some follow-through,” said Conservative Sen. Raynell Andreychuk. “The community has been very strong as to what they want changed.”
Helen Kennedy, executive director of advocacy organization Egale Canada, said more consultation with the LGBT community could have led to a stronger bill.
“We have some concerns and it’s unfortunate that we were not consulted on the bill prior to it being pushed to the Senate,” she said. “However, it’s a question of getting this bill through and then re-visiting these other issues.”
After the meeting, Ataullahjan said the government’s decision will disappoint many people, but she will take Goodale’s word that more changes are down the road. She said she does not know what amendments or recommendations the Senate could make regarding the bill.