Over three and a half centuries ago, in Québec City in 1648, a boy drummer in the military was convicted of “convictus crimine pessimo,” which means “convicted for the crime of the worst kind.” That was a euphemism for committing a homosexual act. Indeed, in Canada homoerotic practices were penalized under the law up until 1969.
By Mathieu Perron
The federal government abolished these penalties in the name of human rights. These rights were finally enshrined in the Charter of Rights when the Constitution was repatriated in 1982. In this context, the Canadian government protected gay, lesbian, bisexual and questioning persons (LGBTQ+).
This change is very recent in Canadian and Québec history. Let’s take a trip through the past to better understand the present:
Some Unquiet Revolutions
On May 14th 1969 in Ottawa, the Omnibus Bill decriminalized homoerotic acts for the first time. “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation,” said the then prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, whose government introduced the Bill. “What’s done in private between adults doesn’t concern the Criminal Code.”
Specifically, the Bill withdrew the Christian notion of sin from the Criminal Code when it came to certain sexual practices that had until that time been criminalized; in particular, sodomy.
And yet our American neighbors continued to condemn homosexual relations. On June 28th 1969 the New York police raided a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn, in the heart of Greenwich Village, a neighborhood of New York City. The bar’s clientele successfully fought back against the police.
Christened the Stonewall Riots, the event was commemorated the following year by marches in major cities across the United States.
It was a key moment in the gay community’s quest for rights. This mobilization crossed north of the border. In 1970, in tune with the changing times, Québec singer Renée Claude sang, C’est le début d’un temps nouveau (it’s the beginning of a new era).
In August of 1971, Canada saw its very first organized demonstrations for gay rights. Participants demanded an end to discrimination against gays and lesbians.
The next year, Toronto saw its first Gay Pride celebration.
Events were galloping ahead of legislators. On June 28th 1976, Québec’s National Assembly unanimously adopted the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms (in French, the Charte des droits et libertés de la personne). The winds of change were blowing. The next year, Canada’s immigration law was modified to eliminate the ban on homosexuals from immigrating to Canada.
In 1979, in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the first gay pride festivities took place in Montréal. The LGBTQ+ community publicly displayed its solidarity.