Cancelling unfair convictions: Canada takes first steps

Canada is set to follow Britain in wiping the criminal records of bi and gay men convicted under laws that only applied because of homophobic legislation.

The law, commonly known as C-66, is properly known as the Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act.

In the debate on the bill, the Canadian government’s spokesperson on LGBTQ2 issues Randy Boissonnault presented it to the house, saying “Today Canadians who were unjustly convicted because of who they love are one step closer to clearing their names and moving on with their lives. They were victims of past federal policies and practices that under no circumstances would hold up in Canada today. They were systematically discriminated against and demeaned, and they spent much of their lives with all the repercussions of a criminal record, unable, in some cases, to find work, or even travel with their families. They were made to feel as though they had committed a major crime, and they were made to feel as though their sexual orientation could determine whether or not they had a chance in life.”

Randy noted that while those with convictions, and the relatives of those who had been unfairly convicted and had since died, could apply to have such convictions struck from the record this left out those with no surviving relatives. He agreed that a process needed to be found to ensure their memory was honoured as well.

C-66’s legislative summary explains that it, “creates a procedure for expunging certain historically unjust convictions and provides for the destruction or removal of the judicial records of those convictions from federal repositories and systems. It gives the Parole Board of Canada jurisdiction to order or refuse to order expungement of a conviction. The enactment deems a person who is convicted of an offence for which expungement is ordered never to have been convicted of that offence. The enactment provides that an application for an expungement order may be made in respect of convictions involving consensual sexual activity between same-sex persons related to the offences of gross indecency, buggery and anal intercourse.”

A Conservative member, Karen Vecchion, spoke reflecting on the journey she had made on the issue, saying: “For me, this has been life-transforming. It has really opened up a world of understanding and compassion. I see myself as compassionate, but I am understanding more.”

The bill sets aside $4m for work on striking the convictions and a further $15m to support LGBT projects that record and memorialise the historic battle against homophobic, biphobic and transphobic laws in Canada and the experiences of people living through those years.

The bill has been attacked as drafted too quickly and therefore not covering every aspect of law which discriminated, such as the record of Canadian customs seizing queer books and magazines brought into the country as obscene, or how to give justice to people who were dishonourably discharged from the armed forces because of being LGBT.

Even if the implementation of the bill addresses these it is not the last measure before Canada reaches equality, as there is still an unequal age of consent in place across the country.