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Canada's Trudeau Apologizes For Past 'Gay Purge' Of The Military

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Canada's LGBT community got an apology yesterday. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged what's come to be known as the gay purge, a policy targeting LGBT people in public service. From Ottawa, North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann has more.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: In 1984, Martine Roy was starting a career in Canada's military. It was still illegal for gays and lesbians to serve in uniform, and she was outed by government investigators.

MARTINE ROY: I was a private in the army, and I was purged at 21 years old. I was arrested, interrogated, sent to a psychiatrist. And then after that, I was dishonorably discharged.

MANN: Roy and about 9,000 others were caught up in a systematic program of informants, raids and interrogations that lasted until 1992 all designed to identify and punish members of the LGBT community.

ROY: It totally destroyed my life at that point, my self-esteem. It took me about 10 years to build myself back.

MANN: Roy still has a military bearing. She's a thin woman with a shock of steely grey hair. She spoke on the steps outside Canada's soaring parliament building. A short while earlier, addressing the House of Commons, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the damage done by the gay purge.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: It is with shame and sorrow and deep regret for the things we have done that I stand here today and say we were wrong. We apologize. I am sorry. We are sorry.

MANN: In theory, the effort to purge LGBT Canadians from public service in the military was part of a Cold War era campaign to prevent infiltration by the Soviet Union. The fear was that closeted gays and lesbians would be more susceptible to manipulation and subversion. There is no evidence anything like that ever happened. Instead, Trudeau says the policy became an instrument of bigotry and hatred.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUDEAU: Those arrested and charged were purposefully and vindictively shamed.

MANN: Trudeau leads Canada's Liberal Party. Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer offered his own apology yesterday to LGBT service members saying the insult done to them during the gay purge is impossible to measure. Martine Roy says these apologies help ease her pain.

ROY: It's a great day. It's a great day for every LGBT and ally around the world right now. What just happened is incredible. It's historical.

MANN: Trudeau's agreed to pay roughly $140 million in compensation, settling a class action lawsuit. And the government will also move now to expunge criminal records tied to the gay purge. This moment of reconciliation comes in stark contrast to the U.S., where President Trump has moved to purge transgender servicemen and women from the military. That effort is tied up in a court battle.

After being purged from the military herself, Roy did manage to rebuild her life with a successful career working for IBM, and later, as an activist for LGBT rights.

Brian Mann, NPR News, Ottawa.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ACORN'S "MISPLACED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.