Category Archives: Gay history

Klippert Month – Week 2

It was (Inter) National Coming Out Day this week, which makes it timely to discuss Everett Klippert and his repeated disclosures. Despite homosexuality being a criminal offence in 1960s Canada, and his multiple convictions of gross indecency, he was always frank and truthful in his interactions with the state, even though he paid a severe penalty for that honesty.

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Young Everett Klippert (right) in Klippert Family Photo.

When Calgary Police questioned him about the 18 names in his little black book, which was also his dating record, he confessed to having had homosexual relations with them all.

In Pine Point, NWT, local RCMP brought Klippert in for questioning and threatened him with an arson charge of which he was innocent. Using it as leverage to open Klippert up about his sex life, he readily confessed to having had intimate relations with four men there.

In every court case, he pled guilty. A court psychiatrist reported that Klippert told him his “homosexual behaviour had existed since the age of 15; that to him homosexual activity [was] his only satisfactory sexual outlet. He found the thought of heterosexual conduct abhorrent. He told me that he never had heterosexual relations.”

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Hand-scribbled judicial annotations in Klippert’s 1960 conviction in Calgary. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta.

Gay activist and lawyer Douglas Saunders interviewed the incarcerated Klippert in December 1967 in what he described as the “fortress-like Penitentiary at Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.” His unjust treatment gave his convictions a certain resolve. Klippert told Saunders: “If I meet someone on the outside now and he asks me, I’ll say sure I’m a homosexual, what are you? I’m not going to be ashamed of it anymore.” Klippert who grew up Christian took comfort in his prison bible and noted Psalm 22:24 to Saunders: “For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”

Coming out cost Klippert much. We can thank his candour for prompting Canada to change its draconian laws around sexual orientation in 1969.

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Klippert Month – Week 1

We at the Calgary Gay History Project hope the Federal Government is still working on a posthumous pardon or equivalent for Calgarian Everett Klippert (1926-1996). November 7th, 2017, will be the 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling, which fully criminalized gays, and precipitated the legislated decriminalization of homosexuality.

So to recognize that milestone in Canadian LGBTQ2 history, we are posting Everett articles all month!

One of the facts presented in his defence, at virtually all of his court cases, was his steadiness as an employee. Everett left school after grade 8 to work and to support his family. His older sister Leah ran their household and he and his eight brothers were required to hand over their wages to Leah for expenses.

Everett’s father operated a grocery store in Bridgeland, and Everett’s first job was working in the shop along with some of his older brothers. By the time he was 17, he was working at Crystal Dairy, the ice cream division of Calgary’s Union Milk Company. He said that it was when he started working there that he became sexually active with other men.

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The Union Milk Company at 130 – 5th Avenue SE in June 1950. Source: Glenbow Archives.

After nine years employed at the dairy, he got a job he loved more, driving buses for Calgary Transit. He was a favourite bus driver too. There are stories of his regular passengers skipping earlier buses to specifically ride home with him due to his friendly, congenial nature.

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Everett Klippert used to go attend bus driver coffee brakes like this one in Eau Claire. Source City Archives via Calgary Metro.

At his first trial in Calgary in 1960 his defence lawyer, W. P. Maguire noted that Klippert “had been steadily employed for 17 years and but for his weakness (sex with men) he would be, at 33, a normal run of the mill man, married with children.” For that reason, he urged a punishment of probation only and not incarceration

Sadly, he was sentenced and served a four-year jail term. When Everett was released in 1964, he quickly departed town both to start over and to spare his family any more shame. He made his way to a job in Pine Point, North West Territories on a lead from a friend and secured a position as a garage mechanic’s helper at the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada, Limited (which was renamed Cominco Ltd. in 1966).

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Everett Klippert worked in the garage at Pine Point from May 1964 until he was arrested in August 1965. Photo: Pine Point Revisited.

He was arrested and tried again for homosexual activity in 1965. At his trial, Everett’s garage foreman, Melvin Logan, was called as a witness on behalf of the defence. When asked about Everett’s performance, the foreman said: “He was very good, a very willing worker, hard worker, easy to get along with, very cooperative. He got along with everyone in the shop very well – no trouble at all.” Furthermore, it was revealed that Everett was friendly with the Logan family. He would go over for supper occasionally and was trusted to babysit the two small Logan children.

During both times Everett was in the penitentiary, he worked in the shoe shop. One of the psychiatrists who interviewed Klippert in 1965 reported:

“I talked to the man in the shoe shop with whom Mr. Klippert worked, and he gave an excellent report; that he is a good worker; that he minded his own business; that he is a sensitive man. He spoke very highly of him. He also informed me that he found life in the penitentiary extremely painful to him because I think he is a sensitive man and some of his colleagues are, well less than that and I think they made life a little bit, considerably rough and difficult for him.”

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Everett Klippert in stripes. Source: Klippert Family Photo.

Tragically, this difficulty would be long-lived. Klippert would remain in jail until 1971 for no known reason, even though Parliament decriminalized homosexuality in 1969 as a result of his unjust prison sentences.

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Vriend vs. Alberta

In 1982 the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gave all Canadians equal rights “regardless of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.” However, the Charter was initially silent on sexual orientation.  It was not until November 1989 when the Federal Court of Canada first accepted sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Charter. It ruled that Timothy Veysey, a gay prison inmate in Ontario had the right to conjugal visits with his same-sex partner.

Up until then, Canadian Courts had mostly manifested a double-standard in discrimination cases. Discrimination based on race or religion, for example, was clearly defined and remedied. Homosexuality, on the other hand, was up for debate whether it could be a protected ground at all. Judges either deferred to society’s objection to homosexuality, based on diffuse religious grounds: “rebutting a millennium of moral teaching ” or punted it back to legislators to decide.

In December 1987, Delwin Vriend began working for King’s College: A Christian Liberal Arts College in Edmonton. Throughout his employment, he was given positive evaluations, salary increases and promotions for his work performance. On February 20th, 1990 in conversation with the President of the College, Delwin was asked about his sexual orientation. He disclosed he was gay. Causing much anguish and hand-wringing, the College developed a position statement on homosexuality which was adopted by its Board of Governors on January 11th, 1991. Shortly after that, the College asked Vriend to voluntarily resign – he would be paid 3 months severance. He declined and was fired.

{Read the King’s College Memo of Jan 14, 1991, communicating its position statement on homosexuality: here. Source Library and Archives Canada}

Within weeks, Gay and Lesbian Awareness (GALA), an Edmonton-based civil rights organization, began organizing actions to “respond to this dreadful and unacceptable firing.” With Delwin’s support, they set up a “Delwin Vriend Defense Fund” to assist with legal costs, and began soliciting donations from the community.

In June of that year, Vriend and GALA tried to file a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission on the grounds that his employer discriminated against him due to his sexual orientation. The Commission gave Vriend a pass explaining he could not make a claim because the Individual Rights Protection Act (IRPA) did not include sexual orientation as a protected ground.

In early 1994, GALA wrote to their sister organization, the Calgary Lesbian and Gay Political Action Guild (CLAGPAG) seeking moral and financial support to sue the Government of Alberta. They need $6,000 more dollars to take the case to the Court of Queen’s Bench.

Financial support rolled in and on April 13th, 1994, Judge Anne Russell decisively ruled that Alberta’s human rights law was inconsistent with the Charter of Rights. In her decision, she wrote: “Regardless of whether there was any intent to discriminate, the effect of the decision to deny homosexuals recognition under the legislation is to reinforce negative stereotyping and prejudice thereby perpetuating and implicitly condoning its occurrence.” The Alberta Human Rights Commission would now have to investigate discrimination cases based on sexual orientation.

On May 5th, the Government of Alberta appealed Russell’s decision and asked the courts to freeze the Human Rights Commission’s new mandate.

The Alberta Court of Appeal ruled 2-1 in favour of the Government, against Vriend, on February 23, 1996. Justice John McClung made national headlines with the sensational phrasing he used in his decision, including the number of times he used the word “morality.” He was bold enough to invoke both sodomy and a link to serial killers Dahmer, Bernardo, and Olsen. He wrote: “I am unable to conclude that it was a forbidden, let alone a reversible legislative response, for the province of Alberta to step back from the validation of homosexual relations, including sodomy, as a protected and fundamental right, thereby, ‘rebutting a millennium of moral teaching.'”

This mobilized Alberta’s gay community into action like no other court case had before. Fundraising efforts redoubled, and there were cheers heard when on March 6, 1996, Vriend decided to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada which agreed to hear the case. Garden parties, garage sales, collection plates at gay bars – there were solicitations for the Delwin Vriend Defense Fund seemingly everywhere.

On November 4th, 1997, the Supreme Court hearings began. The Court heard from 17 interveners including provincial governments, religious organizations and civil liberties groups. Alberta Premier Ralph Klein pandering to his socially conservative base threatened to invoke the notwithstanding clause (section 33 of the Charter) in order to override any defeat the Court might deliver. The entire country appeared to be hooked on the Court Case and vitriol filled newspapers and airwaves.

Then on the morning of April 2, 1998, the Supreme Court was about to deliver its verdict. Vriend recalled: “I remember standing outside the door of the lawyer’s office in Edmonton, just after nine o’clock in the morning. I just couldn’t bring myself to step inside. Then I heard the cheers from inside the office, and I just started crying.”

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Victorious Vriend at a News Scrum on April 2nd, 1998: Source CBC News Edmonton

The Supreme Court minced Appeal Justice McClung’s previous legal arguments and ruled unanimously in favour of Vriend. They wrote that the exclusion of homosexuals from Alberta’s Individual Rights Protection Act was a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

They further wrote: “the exclusion from the IRPA’s protection sends a message to all Albertans that it is permissible, and perhaps even acceptable, to discriminate against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation. Perhaps most important is the psychological harm which may ensue from this state of affairs. In excluding sexual orientation from the IRPA’s protection, the government has, in effect, stated that “all persons are equal in dignity and rights” except gay men and lesbians. Such a message, even if it is only implicit, must offend” Section 15 of the Charter.

At a press conference later that day Vriend said: “Shame on you, Ralph Klein, shame on you (Treasurer) Stockwell Day. You had until 7:45 this morning to do the right thing, and you demonstrated to the very end that you are not a government of the people. You are a government against the people. Haha, I win!” to the applause of supporters.

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Delwin Vriend, right, gets a congratulatory kiss from partner Andrew Gagnon at a post-verdict rally at the Edmonton Legislature. [Photo Credit: The Canadian Press/Kevin Frayer]

Federal Justice Minister Anne McLellan said she was pleased with the judgment: “I believe profoundly that all Canadians, including Albertans, do not see it as appropriate to discriminate on the basis of someone’s sexual orientation.” The ruling immediately had a similar effect on Prince Edward Island and the Northwest Territories, the only two other jurisdictions that had not included sexual orientation in their human rights laws by then.

Many Calgarians were jubilant that night, filling gay bars to capacity. Local television journalists were doing live newsfeeds from the bars too, fervently trying to get a soundbite from joyous revellers.

Vriend, emotionally drained from the long unfolding court cases, would shortly thereafter move to Paris, France. He explained that he had had a lifetime’s fill of media attention, demonstrations, protests and hate mail.

The Vriend decision proved to be of great importance to future legal battles in Canada. It was specifically used to argue provincial cases against bans on same-sex marriage throughout Canada. Also, the decision shaped legal precedent concerning provincial and federal government relationships.

During the 10th Anniversary celebrations at Edmonton City Hall, the landmark decision was described as “Alberta’s Stonewall,” referencing the riots that sparked the gay liberation movement in New York in 1969.

Former Edmonton City Councillor, Michael Phair, who had been involved with the Delwin Vriend Defense Fund from the very beginning recalled: “I remember the immediate rally and goodwill with the verdict. People were very celebratory, but over the next few days, things began to darken substantially with the backlash. I and many others were caught in the maelstrom that occurred for about a week after the decision. Because I was an out public figure, there had been some death threats, and extra security had to be called in. It was not until Klein finally accepted the decision and said that he wouldn’t use the notwithstanding clause that things settled down.”

In 2013, Delwin Vriend travelled to Calgary and was honoured with the inaugural Chinook Fund Hero Award which is given annually by the Calgary Chinook Fund in thanks and recognition for outstanding contributions to the LGBTQ community and our history.

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