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Calgary’s role in decriminalizing homosexuality in the ’60s

Although today we think of Canadian Courts as a progressive force in the country (as in the case of same-sex marriage), in 1967, the Supreme Court made a decision that left Canada the western country with the most draconian approach to dealing with homosexuals.

Everett George Klippert (1926 – 1996), was the last person in Canada to be arrested, charged, prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned for homosexuality; the reforms which led to Canadian legalization of homosexuality were a direct result of the Klippert case.

In the court proceedings, Klippert stated that he had engaged in homosexual activity actively when he started work in a Calgary dairy at the age of 16 or 17; and had continued being active until he was found out and arrested by Calgary Police in the late ’50s who charged him for gross indecency.  Klippert did not defend himself, or consult a lawyer.  He cooperated with his captors in order to avoid scandal.  He was sentenced to four years in the penitentiary.

Upon his release in 1960, Klippert felt his continued presence in Calgary was bringing shame on his family, so he moved to Pine Point, Northwest Territories where he secured a job as a mechanic’s helper and tried to maintain a low profile.  On August 15th, 1965, RCMP brought in Klippert for questioning about an arson case.  The RCMP upon reviewing his criminal file quizzed him about his homosexuality.  According to Klippert, he was told that unless he pleaded guilty to homosexuality he would be charged with arson.  Consequently, Klippert admitted to having had consensual homosexual sex with four separate adult men.  He was subsequently arrested and charged with four counts of gross indecency and sentenced to three more years in prison.

Three months into his prison sentence, he was given official notice by the RCMP that the Crown was proceeding to have him declared “a dangerous sexual offender.”  A court-ordered psychiatrist assessed the mild-mannered Klippert as “incurably homosexual”, and he was sentenced to “preventive detention”  – indefinitely – as a dangerous sexual offender.  Klippert appealed to the Court of Appeal for the Northwest Territories; his appeal was dismissed. He then appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada; his appeal was dismissed in a controversial 3-2 decision. [See the judgment: here.]

The Globe and Mail declared, “it is strange to the point of being unbelievable that conduct in Britain, which would not even bring a criminal charge, can, in Canada, send a man to prison for life.”

On November 7, 1967, the day Klippert’s conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court, there was political outrage, ultimately causing the government to present the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1968-69 (Bill C-150), which, among other things, decriminalized homosexual acts between consenting adults.

It also was the source of Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s, then Minister of Justice, famous quote, in a media scrum outside the House of Commons on December 21, 1967:

“Take this thing on homosexuality, I think the view we take here is that there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation, and I think what’s done in private between adults doesn’t concern the Criminal Code. When it becomes public this is a different matter…”

The law passed, and homosexuality was decriminalized in Canada in 1969.  Police across the country were opposed to the change.  Calgary Police Chief, Ken McIver, said the new law represented a decay in Canadian society.  He described homosexuality as “a horrible, vicious and terrible thing.  We do not need it in this country.”

Klippert remained in prison until July 21, 1971, whereupon he was released. He lived 25 more years before his death from kidney disease in 1996.

Listen to CBC Radio, November 7th, 1967, interview with Klippert’s Member of Parliament, Bud Orange, and Justice Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau.