Quebec Includes Lesbians and Gays in Its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Canada’s second largest province, Quebec, amended its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to add lesbians and gays to the list of those persons protected, thus becoming the first jurisdiction in North America to protect its citizens against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation.

Summary of Event

In 1975, the province of Quebec, Canada, passed legislation establishing its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. At this time, the separatist Parti Québécois Parti Québécois (PQ) moved that sexual orientation be added to the legislation; sexual orientation was not added. The liberal justice minister defended this omission, arguing that Canadian society was not ready to accept such an inclusion and further indicated that conferring legitimacy on homosexuality was not within the bounds of human rights legislation. After consideration, the PQ acquiesced and accepted the liberal stance. [kw]Quebec Includes Lesbians and Gays in Its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms (Dec. 19, 1977) [kw]Lesbians and Gays in Its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, Quebec Includes (Dec. 19, 1977) [kw]Gays in Its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, Quebec Includes Lesbians and (Dec. 19, 1977) [kw]Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, Quebec Includes Lesbians and Gays in Its (Dec. 19, 1977) [kw]Human Rights and Freedoms, Quebec Includes Lesbians and Gays in Its Charter of (Dec. 19, 1977) Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, Quebec, Canada Quebec, Canada, and GLBT rights Antidiscrimination laws;Canada Civil rights;Quebec, Canada [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Dec. 19, 1977: Quebec Includes Lesbians and Gays in Its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms[1220] [c]Civil rights;Dec. 19, 1977: Quebec Includes Lesbians and Gays in Its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms[1220] Bédard, Marc-André

Soon, however, the political climate in Montreal changed dramatically, responding to numerous bathhouse raids Bathhouse raids in 1975 and 1976, as well as the antigay police “cleanup” of the city of Montreal for the 1976 Olympics. In response to these and other events, gay political groups such as the Coalition Against Repression Coalition Against Repression and the more influential Association pour les Droits des Gais du Quebec Association pour les Droits des Gais du Quebec (ADGQ, or Association for Gay Rights in Quebec) were founded. The ADGQ quickly presented a brief to the Commission des Droits de la Personne du Quebec (CDPQ, or Commission on Individual Rights in Quebec) demanding the inclusion of sexual orientation in Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

In July, 1977, the Human Rights Code review committee’s report, Life Together, Life Together (Canadian government report) responded to this demand and recommended that sexual orientation be added to the code. This groundbreaking and well-publicized event created a swift and negative reaction. A volatile political climate developed from a collective homophobic hysteria. Soon, Canada would experience a rash of incidents equating homosexuality with pedophilia and blaming a homosexual for the sexual assault and murder of twelve-year-old Emmanuel Jacques. Anita Bryant imported into Ontario her “Save Our Children” campaign, and criminal charges had been filed against TBP Publications for publishing Gerald Hannon’s 1977 essay “Men Loving Boys Loving Men” in the magazine The Body Politic. A stunned gay and lesbian community mobilized quickly against this hysteria.

Public opinion began to turn again in October, 1977, when police raided Truxx, a popular Montreal bathhouse. That night, 138 men were arrested, and there were allegations of police brutality at the next night’s protests.

The PQ, known for its progressive image, feared that angry community response and widespread condemnation of the raid and subsequent police action would cause unwelcome publicity. As a result, the ADGQ secured a commitment from the Quebec Human Rights Commission to recommend a sexual orientation amendment to the charter, a gesture the government immediately embraced. Acting without hesitation, PQ minister Marc-André Bédard introduced Bill 88 on December 7, 1977, which added a sexual orientation amendment to the charter. To avoid publicity, the PQ rushed the bill through the legislative process. It was passed immediately after its final reading, ten minutes before midnight on December 15, 1977. Bill 88 was signed into law four days later, without fanfare, making Quebec the first jurisdiction in North America to pass human rights legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Significance

The impact of the legislation would not be seen for many years. It is ironic that the early victories of the ADGQ would slow the advancement of gay and lesbian rights in Quebec. This came about for three important reasons.

First, almost immediately after the passage of the amendment to the code, the effectiveness of the law was challenged. In November, 1977, just after the Truxx raid and before the amendment of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, the ADGQ had requested a room rental from the school board. The Commission des Ecoles Catholiques de Montreal (CECM, or Montreal Catholic School Commission) had refused. In a deliberate test of the new provisions, one month later, the ADGQ again requested a room from the school board. At first, the board agreed to rent the room but two months later reneged on its decision citing its effects on the education of children. The ADGQ immediately filed a complaint with the CDPQ; a CDPQ inquiry found that the school board’s action was discriminatory. However, the CDPQ commissioners disagreed. They called for exceptions to the provision, explaining that discrimination could be justified by, among other things, the religious and educational goals of a nonprofit organization.

Second, and surprisingly, the impact of the Quebec charter on other provincial governments was minimal. All other provinces ignored the historic legal change in Quebec and none chose to follow suit. Even in Atlantic Canada, where Halifax’s Gay Alliance for Equity organized to support a similar amendment throughout the 1970’s and early 1980’s, Nova Scotia’s laws remained unchanged.

Third, the ADGQ did not maintain its established political power in Quebec, and it eventually disbanded in the mid-1980’s. Furthermore, the ADGQ did not provide an organizational base for Quebec’s other ongoing gay rights organization. Aside from AIDS organizing, state-directed lesbian-and-gay rights activism did not occur during the 1980’s. The true exemplary impact of the Quebec charter’s sexual orientation clause was clearly seen when the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms adopted a similar provision in Ottawa in 1982. The time had come. Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, Quebec, Canada Quebec, Canada, and GLBT rights Antidiscrimination laws;Canada Civil rights;Quebec, Canada

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, Quebec. http://www.canlii.org/qc/laws/sta/c-12/20050513/whole.html.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lahey, Kathleen A. Are We “Persons” Yet? Law and Sexuality in Canada. Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 1999.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">MacDougall, Bruce. Queer Judgements: Homosexuality, Expression, and the Courts in Canada. Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 2000.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McLeod, Donald W. Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada: A Selected Annotated Chronology, 1964-1975. Toronto, Ont.: ECW Press/Homewood Books, 1996.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Smith, Miriam. Lesbian and Gay Rights in Canada: Social Movements and Equality Seeking, 1971-1999. Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 1999.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Warner, Tom. Never Going Back: A History of Queer Activism in Canada. Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 2002.

1972-1973: Local Governments Pass Antidiscrimination Laws

June 21, 1973: U.S. Supreme Court Supports Local Obscenity Laws

August, 1973: American Bar Association Calls for Repeal of Laws Against Consensual Sex

1977: Anita Bryant Campaigns Against Gay and Lesbian Rights

November 27, 1978: White Murders Politicians Moscone and Milk

November 6, 1984: West Hollywood Incorporates with Majority Gay and Lesbian City Council

December 4, 1984: Berkeley Extends Benefits to Domestic Partners of City Employees

April, 2003: Buenos Aires Recognizes Same-Gender Civil Unions

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