News / Edmonton

'It also looks forward': Edmonton LGBTQ advocate praises prime minister's 'historic' apology

Kristopher Wells said the apology is more than just 'words on a page'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hugs Edmonton Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault after making a formal apology to individuals harmed by federal legislation, policies, and practices that led to the oppression of and discrimination against LGBTQ2 people in Canada, in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017.

Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hugs Edmonton Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault after making a formal apology to individuals harmed by federal legislation, policies, and practices that led to the oppression of and discrimination against LGBTQ2 people in Canada, in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017.

Tuesday marked an “incredibly powerful day” for LGBTQ advocate Kristopher Wells, who travelled to Ottawa to witness Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologizing for decades of federal discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

Hearing Trudeau speak was poignant, he said, but a moment that will stick out in his mind was when a member from the military police stood up with tears in her eyes and saluted the prime minister for his words.

“The whole house stopped and acknowledged the moment and the history … I can only imagine the struggles that she went through for the rest of us who are trying to move our country forward today,” Wells said.

Wells, faculty director for the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services, noted the apology is more than just words. The government is moving forward with proposed legislation that would allow people convicted of historical same-sex offences to have those records wiped out.

The government has also committed $100 million to compensate members of the LGBTQ community whose careers were affected or ended due to discrimination from the federal government.

“We have support from the highest most powerful office in our country to make a commitment to make sure that these are not just words on a page,” Wells said. “So to me that’s the most important part of this apology -- it didn’t just look backwards, but it also looks forward.”

Homosexuality was removed from the criminal code in 1969, but historical offences such as buggery were not removed until 1988. For decades, the federal government ended the career of people suspected of being LGBTQ in the military, RCMP and other federal agencies.

“It was a purge to get rid of LGBTQ people from all aspects of federal service. From working behind a desk in a government office, to being seen as a security threat in the military, to a licence for ongoing harassment and abuse,” Wells said.

“People’s dreams, careers and lives were ruined just simply because they were suspected to be LGBTQ.”

While discrimination still occurs today, Wells said the apology and commitment is a huge step forward for Canada. He pointed out how the issue of gay straight alliances is still controversial in Alberta.

“When we’re talking about these issues in Alberta, and with the backlash we’ve seen, I’d love to see this apology taught in every social studies classroom in the nation.”

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