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“Fun” Fact About Queer Canadian History #1

"Fun" Fact About Queer Canadian History #1

Given Friday is Canada Day and that it’s Pride Week in Toronto, it seemed only appropriate to launch this little series of fun (or, actually, mostly horrifying) facts. Though I must admit reasoning behind it reeks of self-promotion. Over the past two years or so, I’ve been working on an introductory academic text book – a sort of “Queer Canada For Dummies” – that documents the history of Canada’s queer rights movement. It comes out in the fall, but I figured why not throw a few teensy excerpts up on this blog in anticipation (for all 3 of you Lost Boy readers interested in this topic!). Fun fact #1? The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the bizarro lengths they went to keep gays from being federal employees back in the 1960s and 1970s:

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), along with other enforcement groups, essentially spied on, interrogated, and harassed gays and lesbians as “threats to society.” Documented in Gary Kinsman and Patrizia Gentile’s pivotal study The Canadian War on Queers: National Security as Sexual Regulation, this activity began in the midst of the Cold War-fuelled hysteria of the early 1950s. Essentially, homosexuals were seen as threats either because they were being associated with communism and potentially spying for the USSR, or because they were “easy targets for blackmail,” and thus seen as a risk to national security.

At first, the RCMP specifically targeted federal employees, spying on suspected homosexuals and then exposing them, and then often blackmailing them to expose others. But by the early 1960s, they expanded their surveillance to the general population. This led to a collection of more than 9000 names of suspected homosexuals in the Ottawa area by 1967. Most infamously, this process included “The Fruit Machine”; the RCMP put significant time, effort, and money into attempting to invent a machine that would determine if a man was gay by recording changes in pupils dilation when shown erotic images of other men. The machine was partly funded by Health and Welfare Canada.

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