The Fruit Machine @ image+nation

TVO produced this documentary about the history of gays in the Canadian civil service and more particularly in the military. As a person who has a degree in history I was quite shocked to find out that I knew nothing about this. I mean, I am not completely naive in that I was aware that being gay in the military was not something that was accepted or even permitted, but I was shocked to find out the entent to which homosexuals were “hunted” by the RCMP.

Extremely powerful in that it pulls back the curtain on a very dark mark of Canadian history. For over four decades people had their privacy invaded and lives ruined. Important in a social and political context. After watching it you will want to cry while at the same time be angry.

Post WWII it was discovered that the KGB had infiltrated the Canadian civil service. Beginning in 1948 there were background checks on civil servants looking for any potential “weakness” over which they could be comprimised. Homosexuality became “the” key focus led by the very right wing RCMP. Homosexuals were feared creating quite a social panic. This was because they were seen as a threat to society. A threat equal to communism.

A national security campaign began which consisted of homosexuals being purged from the civil service. Gays had to construct themselves as heterosexuals. If you were found out to be gay you were fired. The RCMP was in charge of this campaign. They would round up suspected gays and tell them to resign or be fired and outed. So accurate totals of how mnay lost their jobs is not known.

The purge really picked up in 1958 despite the fact that Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was worried about the whole human rights issues vis a vis the purge. A whole unite of the RCMP was devoted to the purge. So many people’s jobs relied on gays being found out. Gays during this era were petrified. They could not go out to bars to socialize.

Going from discrimination to the silly, the Canadian government tried to develop technology to scientifically prove or detect homosexuality. This was dubbed The Fruit Machine. Included ridiculous things like a Sweat Test, Masculinity or femininity tests. Pupillary response test. Obviously it never really worked. Yet it went on for years.

In 1969 Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau passed a bill decriminalizing homosexuality. Instead of making this better, it got worse for civil servants and especially for those in the Canadian army. At this time there was a push to have women in the military. All women then knew it was not condusive to a military career being gay. Lesbians tried to keep their sexuality hidden. Difficult as even those who were suspected were interogated. Mail was read. Phones were tapped.

The ideology that the military could do whatever they wanted underlined everything that was happening. It was a war against homosexuals. In 1992 the Federal Court of Canada ruled that men and women could no longer be barred from the military because they were homosexuals. It then took until November 28, 2017 before Prime Ministed Justin Trudeau apologized in the House of Commons for what had occured. Too little too late?

Canada is sometimes thought of as a kind of utopic place. It isn’t. Far from it. This is just one example. The Canadian people have to know what the government, armed forces and RCMP did. A disgraceful part of our history and must come out. The lesson to be learnt here is that we have to be vigilent.

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