Canadian Government Antigay Campaign Is Revealed

Documents released in 1992 under Canada’s Access to Information Act revealed a national search for homosexuals in the 1950’s and 1960’s by the Canadian government, namely the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The campaign, under the guise of national security, targeted nearly nine thousand individuals and led to the dismissal of hundreds of people from government service who were assumed to be lesbian or gay.

Summary of Event

Canadian national security documents, released in April of 1992 under Canada’s Access to Information Act, detail the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Royal Canadian Mounted Police, antigay campaign of (RCMP) campaign against gays and lesbians during the Cold War. Speaking before the House of Commons on April 27, 1992, shortly after the documents had been released, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said, “this would appear to be one of the great outrages and violations of fundamental human liberties Civil rights;and Canadian government[Canadian government] that one would have seen for an extended period of time.” [kw]Canadian Government Antigay Campaign Is Revealed (Apr. 27, 1992)
[kw]Antigay Campaign Is Revealed, Canadian Government (Apr. 27, 1992)
[kw]Government Antigay Campaign Is Revealed, Canadian (Apr. 27, 1992)
[kw]Canadian Government Antigay Campaign Is Revealed (Apr. 27, 1992)
Canada;government bias
[c]Civil rights;Apr. 27, 1992: Canadian Government Antigay Campaign Is Revealed[2180]
[c]Government and politics;Apr. 27, 1992: Canadian Government Antigay Campaign Is Revealed[2180]
[c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Apr. 27, 1992: Canadian Government Antigay Campaign Is Revealed[2180]
Mulroney, Brian
Kinsman, Gary
Gentile, Patrizia
Wake, Robert

For nearly one decade, beginning in the 1950’s, the RCMP, claiming that homosexuality constituted a security threat, waged an investigation to name individuals in the Canadian government believed to be gay or lesbian. A decade later, thousands of names, primarily in the Ottawa region, would be on file, two-thirds of whom were not civil servants; and hundreds would lose their jobs.

During World War II and continuing through the Cold War, the RCMP and the Canadian Department of National Defense routinely dismissed “discovered” homosexuals within their organizations by claiming that homosexuals were susceptible to blackmail by foreign intelligence agencies. Homosexuals were also classified as having “psychopathic personalities” and, like chronic delinquents, drug addicts, and alcoholics, were considered unfit for service.

Beginning in 1959, the RCMP began searching other government departments for those persons believed to be homosexual. By 1962, more than eight hundred men and women had been identified as suspected and confirmed homosexuals in thirty-three government departments and agencies. The released documents, now the property of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, prove also that persons not holding public service positions were investigated by the RCMP and the Security Panel (a committee formed to coordinate security efforts). The RCMP maintained that talking to civilians might give them names of homosexuals currently working in the government and that these civilians might at some time apply for government jobs.

The RCMP also funded a project in the early 1960’s by Robert Wake, a psychologist from Carleton University, which reportedly could determine if a person was gay or lesbian. Part of the project was a test based upon the Pupillary Response Test, first developed at the University of Chicago in 1960. Wake would have test subjects peer at provocative pictures through an opening in a box while their pupils were photographed at half-second intervals. Known at the “fruit machine” by the RCMP and funded for nearly four years, the project was disbanded in the late 1960’s, having been a failure and proving to be one of the most bizarre revelations in the released documents.

By the end of 1968, the RCMP had the names of nearly nine thousand suspected homosexuals on file. The RCMP relied on informants to help identify those who were suspect in the hopes of moving them to the “confirmed” category. Security police put in place by the RCMP would then either transfer the individuals to lower-level positions, or have them fired.

Gary Kinsman, a sociology professor at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, showed that nearly four hundred individuals lost their jobs. Kinsman had coauthored a 1998 research report based on the national security documents released in 1992 and on interviews conducted with persons directly affected by the campaign.

Homosexuals would continue to be removed from the military and the RCMP throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, and, as Kinsman points out, “the security campaign was never officially called off. It simply became less tenable.” Calls for greater tolerance and broader rights became more prevalent in the 1980’s, but it would not be until 1992 that the Canadian military officially ended its policy of dismissing gays and lesbians from service. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service still can make recommendations against security clearance for homosexuals.


Government documents released in Ottawa in April of 1992 showed that at the highest levels of the Canadian government, homosexuals were spied upon, were fired from their jobs, and had their careers ruined under the guise of national security. Prime Minister Mulroney said, “the passage of time certainly does not make it any less odious.” Time did, however, put the spotlight on existing policies and treatment of lesbians and gays in Canada.

Citizens demanded the elimination of discrimination against lesbians and gays, called for an amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act (which the Canadian Human Rights Commission first called for in the 1970’s), and called for an end to the ban on gays and lesbians in the military. Sexual orientation was added to the Human Rights Act in 1996, and the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the military officially was ended in November of 1992.

The initial release of the government documents received minimal media coverage, and not until Mulroney spoke publicly in the House of Commons was there extensive press coverage of what the security documents revealed. Lacking, too, was a face on those persons whose rights were violated.

The destructive impact of the RCMP investigations on individual lives had became apparent especially after the 1998 release of the report In the Interests of the State: The Anti-Gay, Anti-Lesbian National Security Campaign in Canada, In the Interests of the State (Kinsman and Gentile) by Kinsman and coauthor Patrizia Gentile. Furthermore, individuals came forward to talk about their experiences, putting a face on the witch hunts. Canada;government bias

Further Reading

  • Ferguson, Sue. “Tale of a Witch Hunt.” Macleans 114, no. 26 (2001): 34-36.
  • Kinsman, Gary. “The Canadian Cold War on Queers: Sexual Regulation and Resistance.” In Love, Hate, and Fear in Canada’s Cold War, edited by Richard Cavell. Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 2004.
  • Kinsman, Gary, Dieter K. Buse, and Mercedes Steedman, eds. Whose National Security? Canadian State Surveillance and Creation of Enemies. Toronto, Ont.: Between the Lines Press, 2000.
  • Kinsman, Gary, and Patrizia Gentile. In the Interests of the State: The Anti-Gay, Anti-Lesbian National Security Campaign in Canada, A Preliminary Research Report. Sudbury, Ont.: Laurentian University, 1998.
  • Robinson, Daniel J., and David Kimmel. “The Queer Career of Homosexual Security Vetting in Cold War Canada.” Canadian Historical Review 75, no. 3 (1994): 319-345.
  • Sawatsky, John. Men in the Shadows: The RCMP Security Service. Toronto, Ont.: Doubleday Canada, 1980.

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August 26, 1969: Canada Decriminalizes Homosexual Acts

1972-1973: Local Governments Pass Antidiscrimination Laws

December 19, 1977: Quebec Includes Lesbians and Gays in Its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms

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