Keeping love in our hearts is why we redress past wrongs

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues from Edmonton Centre, Calgary Nose Hill, and Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke.

Today, we meet following the historic apology to the LGBTQ2 community.

We had a historic apology to the LGBTQ community, two-spirited community, queer community, and the trans community. It was extremely moving. It was powerful. Today, with Bill C-66, the intent is to provide tangible reparations, the expungement of criminal records, for crimes that we would no longer regard as anything but a historical shame for Canada to have treated our fellow brothers and sisters and citizens in this way.

This bill is flawed. Many historians have been referenced already. I will mention how grateful I was to learn so much from the positions put forward by a professor from Carleton, Patrizia Gentile; from York University, Tom Hooper; from Laurentian, as I have already mentioned, Professor Gary Kinsman; and Steve Maynard from Queen’s University. They are all historians who have looked at the really troubling, disturbing, and horrific record.

Our colleague from Calgary Nose Hill spoke very emotionally and personally about how it affected her while getting to know more of what occurred. I certainly know that in meeting with my constituents about their treatment in the Canadian military and being jailed, these are stories that we find virtually impossible to believe. Fortunately, for the most part, we have an enlightened society. It is extraordinarily important that we could meet today with unanimous consent to ensure that Bill C-66 passes, but I do so with some misgivings because of the flaws in the bill that have been brought to our attention since it was originally tabled.

I also take comfort from the assurances by government members, particularly the hon. member for Edmonton Centre, who bears a particular responsibility on behalf of the Prime Minister, to be responsible for championing issues that relate to the LGBTQ, two-spirited, trans community. It is enormously important that the designation has occurred and that we have a consensus in this place.

I want to add that the wrongs that were done do not pass from our minds easily. It is one of those things that sticks with a person. When I was a very small child, I do not remember why I got into a conversation with my mother about same-sex couples and why some people thought it was wrong. This would have been, relatively speaking, a long time ago, because I now find myself something of an elder in this place, being over 60. I think I was about six and talking to my mom about friends who were gay and beginning to understand that gay friends were once discriminated against and sometimes still were.

My mother told me the story of one of the people she loved best in her music program. My mom was a pianist and she knew a brilliant young pianist, one of the most gifted of her generation in her school, who took his own life because he was not allowed to live the life of a gay man. He felt suicide was his only choice. It grieves me to this day to think about that musician, who cut his life short, who was one of my mom’s contemporaries, but it did educate me a bit.

I remember the horror I found in beginning to love and read Oscar Wilde. I still love and read Oscar Wilde, and I think about that brilliant man dying in prison, disgraced for whom he loved. These things we tend to push out of our minds when we quote Oscar Wilde, when he was funny, which he was virtually all the time. He was brilliant and witty, jailed and disgraced.

Many cultures have now moved through this, but we recognize that the discrimination against, and in fact targeting for eradication of, gay men in Chechnya has now been exposed by journalists. We saw Canadian Journalists for Free Expression give its award this year to the brave reporter who broke that story. Therefore, around the world, Canadians are standing up.

By the way, it was only Lithuania and Canada that were willing to offer refuge to gay men from Chechnya so they could escape being targeted and murdered. This is now. This is what is happening around the world now, so there is a lot more work to be done.

However, in addressing the past wrongs that were done in Canada, this bill will be watched closely. I thank my hon. colleague for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke for committing that he and his party will keep an eagle eye on this. I will do my best from the Green Party caucus of one to keep an eye on this, to make sure that criminal records from bawdy houses, from offences that are not listed, and military records of dishonourable discharges, and all of the historical wrongs that remain on people’s records in Canada will be removed. I thank my hon. colleagues on the government side for their commitment. Based on that, I think we could move to unanimous consent today to expedite this bill.

I looked for something from Oscar Wilde to share that was not witty, that spoke to the issue, because I do not quote RuPaul. I am just too old for this. Oscar Wilde said, “Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.”

Keeping love in our hearts is why we redress past wrongs. Keeping love in our hearts is why it matters that we redress the past wrongs of the treatment of indigenous peoples, and why after a century and a half of discrimination and racist policies against indigenous peoples they are still prepared to talk to us. It is an enormous tribute to the human spirit that the will for justice can flourish between and among the past oppressors and the past oppressed, especially when this is recent history.

With that, I am thinking of love. I know that short of questions and answers, this will be the last time I address this House in 2017. For all my friends and colleagues—and they are all friends—I want to say from the bottom of my heart that I hope they enjoy time with their families between now and our resumption in late January; that, if they celebrate Christmas they have a merry and blessed Christmas with the arrival of our Lord and saviour in that small manger in Bethlehem; and if they are experiencing Hanukkah, I would point out that we are about to light a menorah down the way and I wish everyone a happy Hanukkah; and if they celebrate other religions or no religions, that they celebrate the time that Canada as a whole comes to a lovely pause.

Things slow down. Statutory holidays alone give us a chance to be with those we love, and we should turn our hearts and our minds, particularly at this time of year, to those who are alone at Christmas, who are unable to put a meal on the table, and to take some time to donate to those good causes in all of our communities that ensure that a meal will be served and that the homeless are welcomed with warmth, and that all of us reflect the enormous blessings of our lives at this time through sharing with all of those who are without.

Merry Christmas, God bless.