THE MINISTER OF JUSTICE in the new government of the Right Hon. Pierre Elliot Trudeau inherited one of the most difficult legislative assignments of any Canadian justice minister, and he inherited it from the prime minister himself who, in December of 1967, rose as then-minister of justice and introduced amendments to Canada's Criminal Code.
The Liberal's first package had died on the order paper but not before Trudeau managed to describe his package with the phrase "the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation."
On December 19, 1968, John Turner (pictured, right) tabled bill C-150, a massive 126-page, 120 clause amendment to the criminal law of Canada. The one document proposed to allow abortion, decriminalize homosexuality, and regulate drinking and driving offenses, firearm possession, lotteries, harassing phone calls, misleading advertising and cruelty to animals - arguably, then and still today, the most significant criminal law reform since the Criminal Code of Canada was adopted in 1892.
35 days later, Turner rose to address Parliament.
JOHN TURNER - Minister of Justice (Ottawa-Carleton): Mr. Speaker, this legislation is the most important and all-embracing reform of the criminal and penal law ever attempted at one time in this country. What the changes mean, as far as I am concerned, are not a demand for law and order that freeze men into a predetermined pattern but law and order that respond to change and to movement and give us options. Because, sir, yesterday's order, if unresponsive to change, becomes tomorrow's oppression.
This bill is identified, and will be identified in the future, with the indelible imprint of the prime minister (Mr. Trudeau). It was he who had the courage to assemble it, to introduce it into Parliament and to defend it across the land under the sharp scrutiny of a general election.
Mr. Speaker, this bill takes a stand on some of the most controversial questions of our time. Some of them pertain to the most inner parts of our lives: life itself, death and the most delicate personal relations between human beings. Our tolerance to this bill will depend upon our tolerance and our understanding of the needs of a pluralist society where everyone must strive to reconcile his opinions and personal beliefs, including the ones closest to his heart, with those of his neighbours, who are also earnest and sincere.
These amendments remove certain sexual conduct between consenting adults in private from the purview of criminal law. This is one point which I cannot emphasize too strongly. Parliament would not, in enacting these amendments, be condoning this type of conduct. Parliament, by not imposing the criminal law upon fornication or adultery is not thereby condoning fornication or adultery. Individuals will continue to be responsible to themselves for their moral behaviour.
Turner moved second reading and that the House refer the bill to a standing committee.
The first Progressive Conservative speaker was justice critic Eldon Woolliams (Calgary North), who called for the bill to be split four ways.
Thus began a long and arduous debate. Although the bill did contain many controversial proposals including the sensitive topic of abortion, members of parliament began almost immediately to focus on the decriminalizing of homosexuality.
Reactions ranged from outright nonsense to the soul-searching of proper conservatives, unable to act in a manner which might be perceived as condoning homosexuality.
ADRIEN LAMBERT (Bellechasse): It is generally recognized that homosexuality is a disease, and sometimes a vice. A few years ago a terrible disease, tuberculosis, was prevalent in our country, and perhaps more particularly so in the province of Quebec. What was the reaction? Did the government pass legislation to legalize the disease, on the grounds that it was prevalent? Of course not, but it launched an education campaign, asking the people to cooperate to control it. Indeed, thanks to all kinds of preventive and remedial measures, the ravages of tuberculosis have been reduced to the minimum, so that the number of people suffering from that disease is now very small.
That is the reason why I sincerely believe, Mr. Speaker, that the cure for homosexuality is not legalization but rather recourse to preventive measures such as a skillful and objective information campaign among the public, and to curative methods applying to the victims of that evil.
WALTER CARTER (St. John's West): This is a disgrace to the Canadian public. A government which relaxes the regulations and curbs on drugs, that makes divorce easier, that permits abortion and homosexuality, is in the process of remaking our society. The question which we must ask is, in whose image and likeness?
The government by this legislation permits homosexual acts in private between two consenting adults - no more than two. Apparently, for some reason, if there are more than two it becomes illegal. Three's a crowd.
I think it must be agreed, Mr. Speaker, that homosexuality is a psychological aberration. If homosexuality were practised on a widespread scale society would break down. If it were universally practised, the human race would in a matter of time become extinct. If one does not believe in social order and progress, then of course one would welcome the destruction or even the suicide of society.
Now, Mr. Speaker, what of the homosexual. He commands our sympathy in the same way that any human with some aberration commands our sympathy. But one of the salient features about homosexuality and the real reason for it being anti-social is the compulsion to convert, to induce others into its practice. In those nations where homosexuality has raged unchecked, conversion has been a major characteristic, to the point where generations of those unable to make a free choice have been compelled into unnatural practices.
ROLAND GODIN (Portneuf): The adoption of the clause regarding homosexuality will help to reduce the number of births. With the amendment regarding homosexuality, we can expect weddings. As there are several races in Canada, I think the minister should make a statement in order to determine, in the case of a wedding between an Englishman and a Frenchman, which one will be considered as the breadwinner under the Income Tax Act.
I wonder, Mr. Speaker, if the present government, with its loathsome laws on divorce, abortion, on homosexuality, is not simply the tool of a dreadful plot against our civilization.
Roch Lasalle, the member for Joliette was next.
"Homosexuals are probably sick people. We should suggest the building of hospitals where the government would provide the services of specialists who could take care of such people whose behaviour, to me, is completely abnormal."
A few days later, the Speaker recognized Gerard Laprise, the member for Abitibi.
"Mr. Speaker, a few years ago, a sexual pervert assaulted boys who objected to such perversions and he killed him. He murdered them to satisfy his lust. Such things occur too often, Mr. Speaker. Such perverts are not satisfied with meeting other perverts. Too often they try by every astute means available to pervert boys and, sometimes, they kill or pervert. By legalizing homosexuality, such sexual perverts are given full liberty."
Rene Matte (Champlain) rose and offered this tidbit of scientific prediction:
"I can picture young lads 20 years, 11 months and 30 days old - those who were born on February 28th will be real lucky - waiting impatiently under stress the opportunity to celebrate their 21st anniversary by jumping into the five arms of the blue eyed boy of their dreams."
Then, Walter Dinsdale, the member for Brandon-Souris:
"Homosexuals prey on juveniles. It is something that spreads like a plague, for there is no more destructive drive than the sexual impulse running wild. Mr. Speaker, I wish to quote a few words from Dante: 'The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintained their neutrality.' I hope many hon. members will take a stand on this issue."
Real Caouette (Temiscamingue):
"There is an animal species, the rabbits, called the hot race. When has anyone seen two adult rabbits practise homosexuality? Never, because they know it is not the natural thing to do. No one will convince me that the difference between reason and absence of reason lies in homosexuality!"
On April 18, 1969, the debate raged on in the Green chamber.
From the opposition benches rose the formidable figure of the 72-year old former Conservative prime minister, wagging his finger at the 38-year old minister of justice.
RIGHT HON. JOHN DIEFENBAKER (Prince Albert): Mr. Speaker, it is with deep concern that I view a young member of this House with a distinguished past and, I hope, a distinguished future advancing the arguments he adduced yesterday. It must have been difficult but after all, in the shadow stands the prime minister (Mr. Trudeau) keeping watch upon his flock.
What has the government done for the people since December 13 last?
And that was when the microphones in Canada's House of Commons caught the heat-of-the-moment, off the cuff remark by Cape Breton, Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative member, Robert Muir (adjacent image).
Whether he ever regretted it or not is unknown but it did freeze for all to see, plainly, the state of public disdain for homosexuality circa 1969.
ROBERT MUIR (Cape Breton-The Sydneys): Make them all homos!
Muri, M.P., probably thought his remark was humourous but it was deadly humour for the thousands of gay Canadians then living in fear that their sexual orientation would bring upon them and their family, public humiliation and in some cases, violence and ostracism.
By May 14, 1969, the debate on bill C-150 to amend the Criminal Code had carried the House through the gamut of personal opinion on decriminalizing homosexuality.
From the severe homo phobic to the sincerely concerned, the House had rarely witnessed such a dose of utter nonsense.
So adamant was the opposition, that the Catholic Creditistes of Quebec held up debate for three weeks.
When anything would do to delay debate, one went so far as to suggest that the whole thing was a Communist plot to prevent reproduction in Canada so as to facilitate a later invasion!
Mercifully, bill C-150 was put to a vote and carried 149 to 55.
But there was a price to pay for John Turner.
As a young man, Turner had seriously considered priesthood and, quite apart from the homosexuality issue, the abortion provisions had caused him great personal anguish. His own riding president had resigned to protest the abortion provision.
Even though he was a career Progressive Conservative, Robert Muir was appointed to the Senate by then-Liberal Party of Canada prime minister, Pierre Trudeau in 1971.
Senator Muir died in August 2011 at the age of 91.