Tag Archives: Pierre Elliot Trudeau

Klippert Month – Finale

In exactly one week (November 7th) we will have arrived at the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court verdict in Klippert v. The Queen. In the ruling, Everett George Klippert was declared a dangerous sexual offender for having consensual gay sex. It was confirmed that he should be incarcerated for life to protect both himself and Canadian society.

In this final of four posts, I would like to explore the role of Canadian media in bringing his case forward to the court of public opinion. Newspapers across the country gave the Klippert case a good airing with the bulk of editorials condemning the decision.

In fact Pierre Trudeau’s famous quote:

“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.”

was a borrowed phrase from the Globe and Mail’s editorialist Martin O’Malley. (Trudeau thanked O’Malley for the quotation.)

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Pierre Trudeau’s 1967 media scrum with the “bedrooms” quote. Click to watch. Source: CBC Archives.

Sidney Katz, who had researched and written about the gay community extensively, wrote a notable column in the Toronto Star titled: “Gentle George Klippert – must he serve LIFE?” His second article quoted the dismayed reactions of many Toronto homosexuals.

The Winnipeg Free Press editorialized: “It is possible to deplore such activity without treating its practitioners as if they were monsters.” Even the Calgary Albertan (now the Calgary Sun) opined that “the spectre of a possible life sentence seems to us a little severe.”

The only big city newspaper in Canada to react in support of the decision was the Edmonton Journal whose position was against homosexual law reform citing its belief in the tendency of homosexuals to prey on the young.

The Montreal Gazette described Klippert “as the most publicized homosexual in history.”

The irony, of course, is that Everett was quickly forgotten and languished in jail for four more years. Even today, people remember Pierre Trudeau’s famous quote but do not connect it to homosexuality and its decriminalization. Many are shocked to learn that homosexuals were ever prosecuted in Canada in the first place.

Everett Klippert became a symbol of injustice and the trigger for law reform in Canada. Despite his life story being featured in every daily newspaper of note, he was not a subject of the nation’s mercy. Not really.

The point of Klippert month was to remember the person: not just the court case; not just the symbol; and not just the political wedge issue he represented in 1967.

He was a Calgarian.

He enjoyed work.

He was honest to a fault.

He had a family who loved him.

And he was gay.

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Everett George Klippert. Source: Family Photo.

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Offensive MPs in 1969 – is there a lesson here?

There are 76 (and possibly a few more) countries where homosexuality is illegal in 2014.  One can keep track of developments in these countries by following Erasing 76 Crimes, which reports on the status of their anti-gay laws and their human toll.  In the most egregious cases, politicians harp on about protecting society, particularly youth, from gay wickedness – often from a religious rhetorical bent.

76+ countries where homosexuality is illegal

76+ countries where homosexuality is illegal

The rhetoric of our own politicians 45 years ago was strikingly similar.  What exactly was our strategy that allowed us to move forward in Canada?  We need to learn and share that recipe with queer activists everywhere.

The Trudeau Government’s, Omnibus Bill C-150, the Criminal Law Amendment, Act, was brought to the House of Commons on April 16, 1969.  This bill which passed third reading in May that year, proposed to decriminalize homosexuality, and allow abortion and contraception, along with other new regulatory measures on a number of less dramatic issues.

In the debate that raged for the next three days in the House of Commons, here are some samples of what was said by opposition Members of Parliament (MPs):

“I do not want to have this kind of debauchery in our nation.  I think there is a place for a filibuster.  If people tell me to get on with the job, I will say to them: ‘Do you want me to legalize sexual intercourse with the animals of Canada?” – Eldon Wooliams (Progressive Conservative (PC), Calgary North MP)”

Homosexuals are mostly inclined to pervert youngsters and the Minister opens the door ever wider…  Instead of voting legislation to help homosexuals cure themselves, since they are really sick, the way is cleared for them to act more freely.” – Martial Asselin (PC, Charlevoix MP)

“Once you legalize a disease you must legalize all others.  That would be, Mr. Speaker, something utterly ridiculous.” – Rene Matte (Créditistes party, Champlain MP)

“We are bringing the morals and values of skid row into the salons and drawing rooms of the nation…  We are reversing completely values and traditions which have been the foundation stone upon which our western Christian civilization has been established.” – Walter Dinsdale (PC, Brandon-Souris MP)

“We live in an age that more and more is becoming a permissive age.  Some say there is no God – that each man should be able to live his own life as he will as long as he does in private.  I do not find any support for that philosophy in the scriptures…  the Government is saying to the young people of this country: ‘You are in a new age, you are over 20.’ A lad asked me how homosexuality worked and I said, ‘You will have to consult with the Government.'” – John Diefenbaker (Former PC Prime Minister and Prince Albert MP)

In some of those 76 countries, it all sounds kind of current, doesn’t it?

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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 1963, 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 the 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.